MACKAY — A Custer County butcher faces felony charges after allegedly letting hunted animals rot instead of processing them for customers.
Tate Whitworth, 31, is charged with two felony counts of wasting game animals after an investigation by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Whitworth reportedly walked away from his business, Lost River Meats LLC, leaving behind the carcasses of animals, according to court documents.
Between September and November 2020, Fish and Game investigated unrelated poaching incidents and dropped off elk and deer three different times to Whitworth for processing. A conservation officer writes in a probable cause affidavit that Whitworth said he would let them know when the meat was ready, and they could pay him at that time. As January 2021 came, Fish and Game left several voicemails with Whitworth asking about the animals but never got a response.
In October 2021, a hunter called Fish and Game. The hunter had dropped off an elk at Lost River Meats the past season but did not receive the animal back. The hunter also said several people in Mackay had not received anything back from the butcher after dropping off their game.
A witness also said Whitworth left Idaho in early winter, which correlated with people not getting their meat back.
Investigators learned the building used by Lost River Meats was in the foreclosure process, and a bank employee noted seeing several carcasses and animals through the businesses doors. The bank employee said the animal parts appeared to be in various stages of butchering with some appearing to be wasted.
“(The bank employee) made (a) comment that there was a pile of wild animal parts, halves and quarters that is several feet deep,” the probable cause reads.
Fish and Game served a search warrant on Oct. 29, 2021, at Lost River Meats. When investigators walked into the building, they said they smelled a strong smell of rotting meat. A large pile of carcass parts, ribcages, trash cans full of bones and scraps were seen in front of the main doors. Hanging animal parts were also near this main area.
“The overall appearance of the building indicated that it had been abandoned for quite some time,” the probable cause reads. “The butchering equipment was found to be dirty with pieces of meat and blood found on many of the items.”
Fish and Game found six unprocessed animals, including elk, deer and antelope. An additional 20 animals were found processed in the freezers that lost power. The animals were beyond where people could consume them.
A search of Lost River Meats LLC on the secretary of state’s business website shows Whitworth’s company filing dissolved in 2019 after he did not renew his filings with the state. The website lists Whitworth’s company opening in 2016.
It is not clear where Whitworth had gone when the business was found abandoned.
Custer County Prosecutor Justin Oleson charged Whitworth in November 2021. Whitworth made his initial court appearance Monday.
Although Whitworth is accused of a crime it does not necessarily mean he committed it. Everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
A preliminary hearing for Whitworth is scheduled for March 14.
If convicted of both felony counts, Whitworth could be sentenced to spend up 10 years in prison and or pay $100,000 in fines.