The woman who said she planted female jaguar scat at the trap where jaguar Macho B was caught last year said she was told Thursday by federal investigators to prepare to face prosecution for her actions in the case.
"They told me to be prepared to be charged for a violation of the Endangered Species Act" and that "now's a good time to get a lawyer," said Janay Brun, 38, of Arivaca.
Brun said investigators told her she could be charged with the "take" of an endangered species. That's a legal term meaning killing, harming or harassing an endangered animal or plant. The jaguar is listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Macho B was the last jaguar known to be living in the wild in the United States.
Brun sparked a federal criminal investigation when she told the Arizona Daily Star more than a year ago that she had placed the scat at the eventual Macho B trap site at the direction of Emil McCain. McCain was a biologist for the Borderlands Jaguar Detection Project, where Brun also worked as a research technician.
Until her statement that the jaguar was intentionally lured by the scat, Arizona Game and Fish Department officials had said the capture was accidental, occurring during a state study of black bears and mountain lions, for which McCain was setting snares.
At the time of Brun's allegations, McCain vehemently denied them.
Macho B was captured in a snare trap and radio-collared by Game and Fish biologists on Feb. 18, 2009, then released back into the wild. On March 2, 2009, after he slowed down dramatically, he was recaptured and euthanized at the Phoenix Zoo after veterinarians determined he had kidney failure.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigators Frank Solis and Ed Myers, with whom Brun said she met on Thursday, did not return calls from the Star seeking comment. Their supervisor, Nicholas Chavez, the service's Southwest law enforcement chief, has said that the case has been turned over to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Shelley Clemens, head of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tucson, did not return calls from the Star Thursday seeking comment on the case.
McCain's attorney, Alfred Donau of Tucson, declined on Thursday to discuss the case.
Thornton W. "Thorry" Smith, a former Game and Fish biologist who Brun said was with her and McCain at the time she put out the jaguar scat, has told Game and Fish investigators that Brun's story is false.
But Smith was fired in March 2010 because he admitted to state investigators in interviews that he and McCain tried to cover up the fact that, according to Smith, McCain had planted jaguar scat at camera sites near the Macho B trap site. McCain declined to talk to the Star about Smith's statements.
Brun said Thursday that if she's prosecuted, she still won't regret coming forward with her allegations last year. But there have been times she wonders whether it was worth it to have said anything, particularly if people beyond her aren't held accountable, she said.
Contact reporter Tony Davis at 806-7746 or firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter at tonydavis987