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Former Cooper Landing fishing guide charged with stealing from clients

Posted: December 15, 2011 - 2:15pm  |  Updated: December 16, 2011 - 3:18pm

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.

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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GeorgeH
8
Points
GeorgeH 12/16/11 - 11:43 am
0
0
What the Cooper Landing community did about this

Every one of Tom's groups from mid August to the end of September ended up with a trip.

Not the one they paid Tom for but in every case guides and lodging facilities stepped up and took care of the folks. In some cases this was done at no charge to the clients and if there was a charge it was a heavily discounted rate that basically just covered cost.

So kudos to Ardin Rankins at Kenai Lake Escape, Willie & Lovey at the Sourdough B&B and fishing guides Gary Brown, Mike Hawley and Jason Lesmeister who picked up Tom's slack.

These are just the ones I know of - I am sure I am missing some and apologize to them.

gamewarden
3
Points
gamewarden 12/16/11 - 01:02 pm
0
0
Cooper Landing Community

What an absolutely selfless gesture to replace stolen funds w/promised trips...I could only hope that when this scum gets his day in court that payment for services rendered gets priority over reimbursement...Old Tom appears to be a true bottom-feeder...

spwright
1376
Points
spwright 12/16/11 - 04:26 pm
0
0
Not the 1st Guy to Rip Off Cooper Landing

Fri. 12/16/11
I seem to remember a General Contractor that built the Princess Lodge in Cooper Landing being a Crook also.
He burned alot of People in Cooper Landing back in the 80's

Once Bitten, Twice Shy Business Lesson Hard Learned.

SPW in Slooooooodotna

JOAT
490
Points
JOAT 12/16/11 - 07:54 pm
0
0
Crooked Guides...

Hang him high. The evidence is beyond any shadow of doubt. Let's not drag this out any more than it needs to be. I've witnessed this thief's clients posting on the Alaska Outdoor Forum as they try to get some info about the guy who they bought a trip from who they could no longer get in touch with. It was infuriating as more and more people came forward, but then Alaskans stepped in and did what we do... they started donating trips and lodging to these people who got shafted by another out-of-state fishing guide.

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