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Country music star pleads guilty to bear shooting

Country singer Troy Lee Gentry admitted Monday that he shot and killed a domesticated black bear in a 3-acre penned area and not in the wild, as he had claimed when he registered the animal with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Gentry pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Duluth to the misdemeanor crime of submitting a false hunting registration form after killing the bear.

Gentry, 39, of Franklin, Tenn., a member of the country singing duo Montgomery Gentry, had been scheduled to stand trial starting Monday but reached a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney's Office.

He agreed to pay a $15,000 fine and forfeit the mounted bear, the bow he used to kill the bear, and all hunting, fishing and trapping privileges in Minnesota for five years.

Gentry, wearing glasses, a dark suit and tie, politely answered the questions of U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dees.

The singer admitted that he set up a hunting stand in a 3-acre pen that was surrounded by an electric fence. Dees told the court that Gentry had registered the bear as being shot in the wild six miles east of Sandstone.

"You know that is incorrect?" Dees asked Gentry.

"Yes, sir," Gentry replied.

The government alleged that Gentry's taking of the black bear in October 2004 was videotaped and later edited to appear as though Gentry killed the black bear in a "fair chase" hunting situation. According to the indictment, "Cubby" was a "trophy caliber, tame/captive-reared" black bear.

Gentry declined comment outside the courtroom. Minneapolis attorney Ron Meshbesher represented Gentry.

"People thought it was worse than murder," Meshbesher said. "It was a single charge that had to do with improper tagging, and that's all it ever was."

Gentry and co-singer Eddie Montgomery have sold about 4 million records. They won the Country Music Association's Vocal Duo of the Year in 2000. They are known for his such as "My Town" and "If You Ever Stop Loving Me."

The government alleged that Gentry paid Sandstone hunting guide Lee Marvin Greenly $4,650 to shoot the black bear known as "Cubby" on Greenly's 80-acre Minnesota Wildlife Connection property, where he also operates a wildlife photography business. The indictment said that Greenly charges individuals about $750 per guided hunt.

Immediately before Gentry entered his guilty plea, Greenly, 45, appeared before Magnuson and pleaded guilty to two felony violations of the Lacey Act in connection with his work as a licensed commercial hunting guide.

Greenly admitted he and his employees had guided some clients into prohibited areas of the Sandstone Unit of the Rice Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Sandstone, where he maintained bear-baiting stations. One of his clients shot and killed two black bears in the prohibited area.

Charges brought against Gentry and Greenly were the result of an investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Each of the two crimes Greenly pleaded guilty to is punishable by potential maximum penalties of five years in prison and $250,000 fines. The U.S. Attorney's Office said Greenly agreed to forfeit the two all-terrain vehicles used in the commission of his crimes in the prohibited regions of the wildlife refuge.

Magnuson ordered a presentence investigation for both defendants. Sentencing dates have not been set.