Jim West, Alaska weapons connoisseur and star of Animal Planet's "Wild West Alaska," pleaded guilty Tuesday to four misdemeanor hunting violations, bagging thousands of dollars in fines and two workweeks of community service.
What was set to be the courtroom drama of the year for Alaska reality TV -- "Alaska State Troopers" meets "Wild West Guns" -- has been called off.
After a 10-month paper war that left briefs and memos stacked almost 3 inches deep in the office of the clerk of court in rural Glennallen, state prosecutors and TV star West, or "Jimmy," as most court documents call him, have settled on a plea agreement.
Alaska Wildlife Trooper Brent Johnson said West, through his attorney, approached state prosecutors with an offer as they walked through the doors of the courtroom for the start of the trial.
"We negotiated one last time and for a couple of hours and a resolution was reached," Johnson said.
West, the owner of Wild West Guns in Anchorage and Klutina Lodge in Copper Center, pleaded guilty to committing or aiding in the commission of a hunting violation, taking game with a client in the field and two counts of failing to remove a bear bait station.
He'll be required to pay the state $8,000. District Court Judge Daniel Schally imposed a total of $40,000 in fines but most was suspended. The reality star is required to serve 80 hours of community work service, and probation will stalk West for three years.
More than the $32,000 was suspended from West's sentence. The court imposed 20 days of jail time and two years of guide license revocation. Both of the penalties were set aside. West would have faced a max of two years in jail and his guide license revoked for five years for the original 17 charges. If he breaks any probation conditions, which include the usual -- follow all laws, pay the fines and work unpaid for the specified amount of time -- those punishments could reappear.
As part of the plea deal, troopers will return West's Cessna 185 single-engine airplane, worth upward of $100,000. West used the plane for hunting and filming his TV show. That is, before authorities seized it in August 2013.
The plea deal spares Judge Schally from having to officially decide what to do with the state's request to ban the media from the West trial. The state asked the media be kept from the trial in fear Animal Planet might show up to film their star.
The state's motion to block media coverage stated, "The defendant's television show may wish to film at trial." State prosecutor John Darnall was traveling back from Glennallen on Wednesday and was unavailable for comment.
West's private attorney Brent Cole shot back in an affidavit, "This may be the first time in the history of criminal prosecution in Alaska that the state has sought to preclude the media's coverage of a criminal trial."
Trooper Johnson said he was unaware of the request to block media and said he was surprised when no reporters were there for the first day of trial.
Interest in West's case stems from his notoriety as one of many Alaskans portraying the 49th-state's hunting-fishing-goldmining lifestyle on cable television. He is also famous in the world of guns and hunting for building a compact, two-piece, bear-stopping firearm: the $2,600 "Alaskan CoPilot." So when news of the star's crimes broke, it stirred the emotions of the state's guiding industry and Outside fans of the TV show.
The plea comes with the caveat that West admit the information in the charges against him.
Alaska State Troopers reported in November that West's illegal hunting operations were based out of his lodge near the famous Copper River.
The state's investigation began in May 2011, just after West's bid for permission to guide hunts on Ahtna Inc. land was rejected by the Alaska Native regional corporation's land managers.
After that, West continued using Ahtna lands, according to previous interviews with Ahtna managers and court documents. Troopers say West took clients bear hunting on Ahtna land last year too. They say they saw it on footage in "Wild West Alaska."
On the evening of May 26, 2011, West guided a client on Ahtna land and shot a black bear himself, something that's only legal for self-defense, according to charging documents in the case. Others along on the hunt said the kill happened after the bear charged West as he was looking for a bear shot by his client.
The case trudged along for months following the filing of charges. The defense argued in motions that the state dodged requests for additional evidence while the prosecution said the defense asked for nothing short of a private researcher.
West's defense attorney also argued that much of the case was actually a civil dispute between landowners and land users. The attorney wrote that West moved his bait stations off federal land and onto state land. He said Alaska owns land under "ordinary high water" on all navigable waterways, and West was "lawfully permitted to bait and hunt on the river or on any land under that mark."
Arguments aside, the case has reached its conclusion. Trooper Johnson said the outcome was fair to both parties.
"Here we are three years later," Johnson said. "It was long-term. It involved a lot of troopers, a lot of travel." He and another trooper traveled out of state to interview West's clients, according to court documents.
"It does send a message to the guiding community that, as we frequently state, big game guides are held to a higher standard in what can be a very lucrative business."
West estimated that his legal costs prior to the trial totaled $150,000, and he was looking at costs of about $50,000 and two weeks spent in Glennallen if the case went to trial. He said taking a plea seemed like the only reasonable thing to do.
His attorney, Brent Cole, was most upset that troopers tried to use as evidence of trespass photos of a bear baiting site taken before West was told by Ahtna to get off its land, and that troopers changed the dates on so-called "trail cameras" they hid in the woods to photograph other West hunts.
Cole said "Somebody (on his staff) noticed those dates were exactly a year off ... they're date-stamped the wrong year."
No one would own up to who did that, he said. But a trooper testified under oath, "he probably did it." And said, "He didn't want to confuse a prosecutor.
"I'd be disbarred for doing that and transferring it to the other side," Cole said. "There's a lot of irregularities going on here."
West did admit he should have been more careful.
"I'm a celebrity. It means you've got a target on your back," he said.
Craig Medred contributed to this report.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing