Hunters convicted of conspiracy sue TV station’s owner for defamation

By: - September 18, 2023 2:42 pm

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A former Ankeny, Iowa, couple convicted of a federal crime related to trafficking in wildlife is suing the owner of a Des Moines television station for its reporting of the case.

According to federal court records and the office of U.S. Attorney Steven Russell, Josh T. Bowmar, Sarah E. Bowmar and their company, Bowmar Bowhunting, were each convicted last year of conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act.

The Lacey Act, named after former Iowa U.S. Rep. John F. Lacey of Oskaloosa, makes it unlawful for a person, through interstate commerce, to knowingly transport, sell or acquire wildlife that has been taken, transported or sold in violation of state or federal wildlife laws.

Prosecutors alleged the Bowmars and others “had an understanding to routinely purchase hunting and guiding services” from Hidden Hills Outfitters in Nebraska “for the purposes of taking, possessing, and acquiring wildlife in violation of the laws and regulations of the State of Nebraska.” The couple was accused of helping to establish or maintain sites baited with deer food that were monitored by electronic game cameras to “maximize their hunting effectiveness and success rate” and further their efforts “to kill a specific trophy deer.”

The Bowmars were also alleged to have videotaped their hunting activities while intentionally attempting to minimize or avoid recording the trail cameras or bait sites “in order to elude detection by law enforcement or members of the public.”

In October 2022, Sarah and Josh Bowmar each pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act. The two were sentenced to three years of probation and 40 hours of community service, according to Russell’s office.

In addition, Magistrate Judge Michael Nelson ordered the Bowmars to pay $75,000 in fines, plus a  $44,000 judgment in lieu of forfeiting certain property, plus $13,000 in restitution. As part of the terms of their probation, the Bowmars agreed to refrain from any activities associated with hunting within the federal district of Nebraska during their probation.

In their lawsuit against Hearst, the Bowmars allege KCCI published a false statement when it reported on its website, “Ankeny couple pleads guilty in federal poaching case.” The Bowmars allege they “did not plead guilty to a poaching charge, and all but the conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act charges against them were dismissed.”

Hearst Properties has sought dismissal of the case, arguing that a comparison of KCCI’s reporting with the federal charges and the Bowmars’ signed plea agreements “leaves no doubt that the reporting was substantially true.”

The Bowmars are suing for defamation and false light invasion of privacy, alleging they have suffered “significant financial damages and damage to their reputations.” The lawsuit claims the Bowmars have been “attacked on the internet and lied about by the public as a result of defendants’ false statements. They have lost money, productive time, and experienced anxiety and humiliation as a direct result of the false defamatory statements.”

The couple is seeking at least $100,000 in compensatory damages, and at least $100,000 in punitive damages. The lawsuit, originally filed in Tennessee, where the Bowmars now live, was recently transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Bowmars’ sentencing marked the end of a criminal case that involved the prosecution of numerous defendants related to alleged violations committed by owners, guides and clients of Hidden Hills Outfitters. A total of 39 defendants pleaded guilty and were sentenced to pay a total of $759,732 in fines, restitution and forfeiture and ordered to serve 30 months of incarceration, 47 years of probation, and 72 years of hunting and guiding restrictions.

This article first appeared in the Iowa Capital Dispatch, a sister site of the Nebraska Examiner in the States Newsroom network.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Clark is deputy editor of the Iowa Capital Dispatch. Kauffman has extensive experience using the Freedom of Information Act, reading Form 990 financial reports for nonprofit organizations, and organizing multi-part series. He can be a source for health care coverage as well as stories on police and prosecutorial misconduct, and publicly funded nonprofits. During the past 30 years, Clark worked as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.