Three stuffed Alaskan black bears -- a mother and two of her cubs -- seized by law enforcement officers in Oakton last September are now on display at the Virginia Game Department headquarters in Richmond.
The man from whom they were seized has pleaded guilty to two counts of violating the Virginia game codes and has paid $400 in fines.
"It's an excellent mount. That's the reason we put it down there in the public lobby," said Don Patterson, special agent of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Richmond.
The case of the three bears was an outgrowth of a Virginia and federal investigation of Arthur W. Smith, says Patterson, who worked the case from the federal end. Smith is a Shenandoah County man who has served as a big game guide in Alaska and who is now awaiting trial in federal court on four federal wildlife charges and eight firearms charges, according to Patterson.
Park Slater, a Shenandoah Valley state game warden who first developed the Smith case, arrived unannounced last year at the Oakton home of Ralph Maitland (Buddy) Leigh, who had been identified as having been guided by Smith in Alaska. When the door opened, Slater saw the bears, and, he said, "the cubs were prima facie evidence of the violation of either Alaska or Virginia law." That is when the house was staked out, a search warrent was issued and the bears were seized.
Leigh, guided by Smith, had killed the mother bear in 1978 in Alaska, unaware that she was accompanied by three cubs, state game warden Slater said. When the cubs were discovered, the hunters attempted to backpack them out of the wilderness. During this attempt, two smothered. These were the two who were stuffed.
The Ohio taxidermist who did the work was complimented by game warden Slater. "It's an absolutely gorgeous mount. One of the best bear mounts I've ever seen."
The taxidermist has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Roanoke in connection with the Smith case, according to Slater.
Smith, the guide, smuggled the surviving cub into the Lower 48 in an oil drum and kept the bear at his home until his arrest by game agents, Slater said.
Leigh pleaded guilty to the Virginia charges in General District Court in Fairfax on June 4, according to Slater, and in exchange was not given jail time. He has cooperated with authorities in developing the Smith case, Slater said.