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6 CHARGED WITH LEADING UNLICENSED RIVER TRIP

SHARE 6 CHARGED WITH LEADING UNLICENSED RIVER TRIP

A Reno, Nev., outfitter and five guides have been charged with leading a paid river trip on Idaho's most popular whitewater river without a license, a state undercover agent says.

Tom Hoeck, owner of RAM River Expeditions, which leads whitewater trips around the West, was arrested Saturday after he finished a six-day trip on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, said Al Lewis, chief investigator for the licensing board."We feel this is just the beginning," said Bill Meiners, board chairman of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Licensing Board. He estimates there are two illegal whitewater outfitters for every legal one. The board is boosting its enforcement of the outfitting license laws.

Outfitters may not charge customers for a trip without a license from the state board, Meiners said. And guides may not participate in a paid excursion unless the outfitter is licensed.

"The message ought to be, buyers beware," he said.

Hoeck pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge, Lemhi County Magistrate Fred Snook said. Maximum sentence is a $5,000 fine and 90 days in jail. The licensing board also can sue for up to $5,000 in civil damages.

Charged with illegal guiding, a misdemeanor, were Marvin Alton, 36; Frank Yeamans, 43; David Wayne King, 30; and Steven Dean Baker Jr., 26, all of Reno; and Andrew R. Lindsay, 27, Incline Village, Nev.

Snook said four of Hoeck's customers, and King and Baker, pleaded guilty to fishing without a license. A passenger and King also pleaded guilty to taking cutthroat trout in a catch-and-release stream.

Lewis said he learned about Hoeck's trip in a Reno sports show and sent for a brochure. Three months ago, he booked a trip for an undercover agent who acted as a paying customer during the expedition.

When the party concluded the trip Saturday, Lewis said he walked up to Hoeck and served a warrant for his arrest. Snook impounded rafts and other equipment as collateral for bail.

More than 9,000 people float the Middle Fork each summer. Lewis said illegal outfitters frequently tell customers that "we're all just friends."

"If the outfitter says that, you know you're in trouble," Meiners said.