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Former Cooper Landing fishing guide charged with stealing from clients

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A former Cooper Landing fishing guide was charged last week with stealing from nearly 70 clients by failing to provide trips booked with his guiding business in 2010 and 2011.

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Thomas W. Murray, the owner of Wise Guide Outfitters of Cooper Landing, was alleged to have failed to provide package-deal fishing vacations that included transportation to and from Anchorage and Cooper Landing, five full days of guided fishing trips, all meals, six nights lodging as well as camp fires and sightseeing tours, according to an Alaska State Troopers press release.

Investigation began after the Alaska Wildlife Troopers’ Wildlife Investigations Unit received a complaint on Sept. 6, 2010. The Wildlife Investigations Unit, with assistance from the Alaska Department of Revenue’s Criminal Investigations Unit and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, opened an investigation into Murray and Wise Guide Outfitters.

“Investigators obtained records to contact all of his clients in 2010 and 2011,” said Clint Campion, assistant attorney general for the state. “And that required business records, computer records, emails and contacting clients from across the country.”

Troopers report Murray, a current resident of Cedar Hills, Utah, sold the fishing vacations on eBay for the 2010 and 2011 sport fishing season, but then failed to provide for some or all of these vacation packages.

Several dozen states were represented in terms of clients that paid Murray for future fishing trips, Campion said.

Murray sold trips to 29 parties with a total of nearly 70 clients who collectively paid more than $90,000 for trips that Murray failed to provide, and the investigation also revealed Murray failed to pay local area businesses – to include lodges, a fishing charter operation and sport fishing guides – more than $27,000 for services that were rendered to Murray’s 2010 clients, according to Troopers.

Campion said he hopes fraud offenses involving fishing guides are not common. When the offenses occur the state's goal is to ensure that this conduct is not permissible under law, he said.

“In our view this is more than just someone who failed to fulfill their end of a contract,” he said. “This is a person who was letting people believe that they were going to receive a trip. He received money for it, continued to tell them that the trip was going to happen and then misled them to a point where they never heard from him again.”

No evidence of the activity in other states was referred to Campion. Investigators focused on trips Murray offered in Cooper Landing.

Murray was charged in Kenai District Court on Dec. 8 with one count of scheme to defraud, four counts of second-degree theft, one count of first-degree unsworn falsification and one count of false information on a fishing license.

Scheme to defraud is a class B felony that carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. Second-degree theft is a class C felony, which carries a sentence of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000.

Attorney Stephen Hale represented Murray over telephone during Friday’s arraignment. Murray sought an attorney after learning of his felony charges, said Kenai Judge Sharon Illsley.

Murray pleaded not guilty to the charges. His conditions of release include no contact with the many victims listed in the charges and a court appearance bond of $5,000.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 5. Illsley said telephonic attendance to the hearings should be fine, but the state will address physical court appearance as the trial date approaches.

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy.shedlock@peninsulaclarion.com.

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