Tales from Wasilla: Paul Gil Skates

Defendant Paul Gil, skinning an illegally hunted Harbor Seal (photo via USDOJ)

Wasillite Paul Gil was on a deer hunting trip to Prince William Sound in October 2017. On that trip, Gil shot and killed a Harbor Seal, using an AR15-style assault weapon. Harbor Seals haul out of the water at various places in the Sound. Shooting them is every bit as challenging as shooting a motionless log. An AR15 is a completely inappropriate weapon, like shooting a moose with a .22 rifle. Worse, Harbor Seal meat is very strongly favored; an Alaska Native friend of WC’s calls it “poverty food,” something you eat only when the alternative is starving.

What Gil shot: Harbor Seal, Prince William Sound, 2008

In July 2019, an anonymous tipster identified as T.M. called the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Enforcement Hotline and reported that Paul Gil had shot and killed a seal in Prince William Sound in October 2017. T.M. reported Gil was photographed skinning the animal at his Wasilla residence.

The photographs were taken by a person identified as M.G. When interviewed by law enforcement, M.G. said he/she told Gil he could not shoot a seal because he is not Alaska Native. Gil responded by telling M.G. he would shoot M.G. if M.G. told anyone and that they would tell people M.G. had shot the seal, as M.G. is Alaska Native. Alaska Native peoples do have hunting privileges for most species of seal. Metadata associated with the photographs M.G. took of Gil and the seal established that the photos were taken on October 10, 2017.

That was enough to allow Federal law enforcement to obtain several federal search warrants. Among other things, these warrants resulted in evidence establishing:

(1) there were photographs of Gil on Naked Island in Prince William Sound,

(2) photographs of an AK15-style rifle marked “Gil Trust, Anchorage, AK,” in early October 2017;

(3) Gil’s cell phone was located in Anchorage on October 4, 2017; in the vicinity of Naked Island from October 4-8, 2017; and back in Anchorage on October 9, 2017.

On June 9, 2021, the Feds interviewed Gil who confirmed he went hunting with two other individuals in Prince William Sound in October 2017. Gil claimed only a deer was harvested on the trip. Investigators interviewed the other two individuals and they each advised Gil had shot and killed a seal on the trip and had later taken it to his residence.1

Gil was charged with a misdemeanor violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Unsurprisingly in the face of the mountain of evidence, he copped a plea.

And was permitted to walk away: two years probation, a pitiful $1,500 fine and 100 hours of community service “related to marine conservation approved in advance by the U.S. Attorney’s Office during his term of probation.” He’s also prohibited from hunting for two years.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, Gil’s five prior criminal misdemeanor convictions, spanning the past 18 years, which include violating the terms of a domestic violence protective order, misconduct with firearms, and driving under the influence, would result in a sentence of zero to six months’ imprisonment or no more than three years’ probation. Add to that a patent attempt to intimidate witness M.G., lying to law enforcement and attempting to conceal evidence (disposing of the AR15) and you have facts supporting the more severe end of that sentence range. Instead, Gil got a sentence at the very lowest end of the range.

The U.S. Attorneys’ Office claims the sentence “appropriately reflects the nature and circumstances, as well as the gravity, of this crime.” And that the Court “must impose a sentence that will deter Defendant Gil from committing crimes in the future.” Remember, we’re talking about a guy with five prior misdemeanor convictions. The USDOJ notes, “Next month, he is set for trial on state domestic violence assault charges involving another domestic partner.” The evidence suggests the past criminal sentences have not been very effective at deterring Mr. Gil from criminal conduct. The evidence suggests that something at the higher end of the range would be entirely appropriate.

The Sentencing Memorandum filed by USDOJ makes an attempt at persuading the U.S. Magistrate that this sentence is consistent with other, similar sentences in other Marine Mammal cases. USDOJ’s attempt is unsuccessful: the cases they cite didn’t involve threats to kill a witness, or defendants with five prior offenses.2

So Paul Gil skates. He will spend 100 hours cleaning animal cages at Alaska Sealife Center or something similar, skip hunting trips with his buddies for a while and try to be good for two years.

But will he be deterred from future crimes? Not on the evidence.

1 The facts described in this blog post come from the USDOJ Sentencing Memorandum, which is a very nearly public record. You need an Electronic Case Filing (ECF) account through PACER, and a deep wallet to read the filings. If someone wants more detail, contact WC.

2 It’s also pretty damned discouraging to the field agents in charge of enforcing the Marine Mammal Protection Act. As USDOJ concedes, “Wildlife crimes like this one are exceedingly difficult to detect. And that is especially true in Alaska with our vast wilderness and 66,000 miles of coastline. Absent the call placed to the NOAA Hotline and OLE’s significant investigative work that followed, Defendant Gil surely would have escaped any consequences for his crime.”