Residency question lands 79-year-old moose shooter from Butler in hot water in Alaska

Leroy Gerner divides his time between Pa. and Alaska

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Leroy Gerner wishes that bull moose had wandered down another driveway.

"About a thousand times," says Mr. Gerner, a 79-year-old retired schoolteacher who splits his year between Butler and Eureka, Alaska, deep in the state's interior about 150 miles northwest of Fairbanks. "I wish he had never been born. Of course you can't blame the poor moose."

Mr. Gerner, who was born in Bruin but is looking to spend the rest of his days in a cabin he is winterizing in Alaska, faces a slew of charges as result of the fateful day last month when he, clad in his pajamas and sandals, shot the moose, and a neighbor reported him to the state.

Alaska Wildlife Troopers have charged Mr. Gerner with making a false claim of Alaska residency and taking the moose without a required nonresident tag, among other offenses.

Megan Peters, an Alaska Department of Public Safety spokeswoman, said Mr. Gerner faces possible fines and restitution in excess of $10,000, suspension of his hunting privileges for up to five years and forfeiture of the antlers, meat and the .378-caliber Weatherby rifle he used to kill the moose.

Mr. Gerner, an Air Force veteran who bought his property in Alaska in 2004 and has been steadily working to make it habitable during the winter, says he wasn't trying to deceive anyone and assumed there was nothing wrong with the resident hunting license he was issued about five years ago.

"I told them I had a Pennsylvania driver's license and they just issued me a [hunting] license," Mr. Gerner said. "I had been up in Alaska for 20 years. For 19 years I bought a nonresident license for everything. I did everything I knew to stay in the bounds of the law."

Mr. Gerner faces 32 hunting infractions, according to court documents cited by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, which reported on the charges against Mr. Gerner as well as the warrant issued for his arrest because he failed to appear for his arraignment last week.

However, Mr. Gerner, who has retained a lawyer, said he signed a document authorizing his attorney to appear for him at the hearing and said he was told his appearance was not necessary. He says a hearing is scheduled on the warrant next week.

At issue is Mr. Gerner's Pennsylvania homestead tax exemption. Only "primary residences" qualify for the deduction, and Alaskan Wildlife Troopers contend Mr. Gerner's exemption disqualifies him for an Alaska resident hunting license.

The state Department of Fish and Game defines a resident as someone who "is physically present in Alaska with the intent to remain indefinitely and make a home here, has maintained that person's domicile in Alaska for the 12 consecutive months immediately preceding this application for a license, and is not claiming residency or obtaining benefits under a claim of residency in another state, territory or country."

Mr. Gerner says he never intended to trick anyone and says the state Fish and Game office that issued him the license in the first place shares the blame.

"I didn't think I had done anything wrong," he said. "They passed it out, but now five years later they want to come back and nail me. ... If they have the right to accept or reject my application, they should know what they're doing."

He said he never got an Alaskan driver's license because he didn't know he needed one and said Alaska's law is "so expansive and vague" it could affect thousands of others who have residences in other states and receive any kind of benefit, such as a tax break, from another state.

"I thought I was going up there to have a quiet end to my life," Mr. Gerner said, adding that he has lost sleep over the matter. "This thing will affect me the rest of my life. I don't know how much longer my heart can take this."

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Robert Zullo: or 412-263-3909. First Published October 18, 2013 8:00 PM


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