Federal prosecutors have added another criminal charge against Janay Brun, the research technician who blew the whistle on last year's deliberate capture of jaguar Macho B.
The U.S. Attorney's Office added a charge of conspiracy to "take" a jaguar onto an earlier charge that Brun had illegally taken a jaguar in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
The change drew a protest from Brun's attorney, Michael Piccarreta. He said the new charge sends a bad message to people: " 'Cooperate with the government, but only at your own peril. If you know of some illegal acts, keep your mouth shut.'
"Who in their right mind would come forward to the government after watching what happens to Janay?" Piccarreta asked.
Wyn Hornbuckle, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, declined to comment on Piccarreta's statements.
"We're moving forward with the prosecution. We're looking forward to litigating in court. We're not going to litigate in the paper," Hornbuckle said.
In March 2009, Brun, of Arivaca, went public by telling the Arizona Daily Star that veteran jaguar biologist Emil McCain ordered her on Feb. 4 to place jaguar scat at the location near the Mexican border in Arizona where Macho B was trapped two weeks later.
After denying Brun's charges for more than a year, McCain admitted they were true this May 14. He pleaded guilty to the same crime of illegal take that Brun is now facing. He was not charged with conspiracy.
The new charge said Brun conspired "to harass, harm, pursue, trap, capture and collect" a jaguar without a proper permit.
The maximum penalty for Endangered Species Act violators is a year in jail and a $100,000 fine.
Piccarreta said he believed the prosecutors upped the charges against Brun because she refused to accept what he said were the government's terms for a plea agreement: three years' probation, during which Brun couldn't do any large-cat research, including on jaguars, in Arizona.
Piccarreta would not provide the Star with a copy of the government's proposed plea agreement, saying it's not a public document. Hornbuckle would not comment on plea negotiations.
If a plea agreement can't be reached, Piccarreta said, he would argue in a trial that Brun is not guilty under the theory that the government is stopped from prosecuting someone if that person was taking orders from a government official.
McCain had worked as a subcontractor for the Arizona Game and Fish Department shortly before the jaguar capture, trapping mountain lions that were a stated target of the study in which Macho B was captured. While Game and Fish has said McCain was no longer its subcontractor by the time of Macho B's capture, Piccarreta said he doesn't accept that statement at face value.
He would not discuss his evidence but said McCain's words and actions during the time before the capture indicated he was working on Game and Fish matters. "We think that under the law, he will be designated as an agent of the government," Piccarreta said.
Contact reporter Tony Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 806-7746.