Former Cooper Landing guide Thomas Murray pleaded guilty Friday to stealing from his former clients. He also pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree unsworn falsification — for Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend fraud — and one count of false information on a fishing license.
Murray, of Cedar Hills, Utah, on Friday attended his change of plea hearing via Internet video.
He was charged in December 2011 with stealing from nearly 70 clients by failing to provide trips booked with his Cooper Landing-based guiding business, Wise Guide Outfitters.
The consolidated count of second-degree theft lists four victims identified in the case’s original charges. The victims include Mike Leever of Bayard, Neb.; Mike Primrose of Macon, Miss.; Kip Robinson of Missoula, Mont.; and Donald Maeker of Flatonia, Texas, according to a plea agreement signed on Feb. 2 by Alaska Assistant Attorney General Clint Campion. Judge Anna Moran will determine the sentence of this consolidated count.
The former guide originally was charged 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.
Murray said he understood that by pleading guilty to second-degree theft he may be required to pay restitution to all four victims.
Scheme to defraud was dismissed due to the plea agreement.
Based on his guilty plea to second-degree theft, a class C felony, Murray could be sentenced up to five years in prison and fined up to $50,000. Moran will determine Murray’s sentence at 3:30 p.m. on July 2 at the Kenai Courthouse.
The unsworn falsification charge includes three years probation and $2,872.55 restitution to the State of Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend. He also agreed to ineligibility of future permanent fund checks.
Another three years probation and an undetermined amount of restitution were imposed by the court for the false information on a fishing license charge.
His plea follows an investigation by Alaska Wildlife Trooper Wildlife Investigator Eric Hinton that began in September 2010. Troopers report Murray sold fishing vacations on eBay for the 2010 and 2011 fishing season, but then failed to provide for some or all of these vacation packages.
Murray started selling fishing trips on eBay around 2005. He arrived in Alaska in June 2010 for the fishing season, but left two months later because he “kind of lost it,” according to court records.
When two of Murray’s clients attempted to confirm the status of their trips they received email responses with different scenarios. In a July 1, 2011 email Murray wrote he had “been in a bit of a bind over the last year,” and in a Sept. 10, 2010 email he claimed he had a brain tumor and was scheduled for surgery the next week.
Court records do not indicate the reason for Murray’s departure in 2010 or detail his mental state at the time.
Several dozen states were represented in terms of clients that paid Murray for future fishing trips, said Campion.
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 other 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.
He has lived in Utah since he abruptly left the state mid-fishing season in 2010.
Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at email@example.com.