Troy Downing

Troy Downing

U.S. Senate candidate Troy Downing wants a Gallatin County judge to throw out several charges alleging he was not a Montana resident when he bought resident hunting licenses, claiming past accountants made errors in his tax filings.

Christopher Williams, Downing’s attorney, filed a pretrial motion in Gallatin County Justice Court and said the residency status on the Big Sky businessman’s tax returns are in the process of being corrected. He asked that those documents be redacted from the court’s records.

Downing is facing seven misdemeanors for unlawful purchase of or applying for a resident license by a nonresident. The citations accuse him of illegally buying licenses in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

The Republican candidate pleaded not guilty to the charges at an appearance August 23 in Gallatin County Justice Court. A three-day trial is scheduled to start May 23, two weeks before the state’s primary election.

Downing has taken the necessary steps to amend his tax returns from 2012 through 2014 and fix the residency discrepancy that pertains to five of the nine citations, according to court documents. Downing couldn’t amend his 2011 tax return, Williams maintains, because Brian Lloyd, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks game warden who investigated the case, didn’t tell him of the issue until it was too late to correct the older returns.

Furthermore, Williams said the state’s laws requiring people to live in Montana for 180 days to qualify for a resident license holds citizens “captive.” He said the law has directly violated Downing’s rights to work and travel.

“A person must be physically captive within Montana for 180 consecutive days regardless of whether their employment or familial obligations require travel out of state,” Williams said in the court documents.

Residency requirements, he said, have turned FWP game wardens into a police force that investigates unsuspecting citizens and treats them as criminals because of travel and employment requirements. Instead, Williams suggested FWP should be educating residents and helping them avoid the pitfalls of the state’s rigid and complex residency requirements.

“FWP’s efforts to document our citizens’ movements in this regard are more akin to George Orwell’s Big Brother,” he said.

Williams also asked to exclude evidence at Downing’s May trial that includes posts from Downing’s blog and Twitter account, as well as cellphone records that warden Lloyd said suggested Downing’s time in Montana was “seasonal at best.” The state plans to use the evidence against him to show that he had a phone number with an out-of-state area code and referred to a Sleeping Indian Vineyard in Fallbrook, California, as being “home” at the time he had received Montana licenses.

Downing was also cited for transferring a hunting license to another person and for assisting an unqualified applicant in obtaining a hunting license. Those citations were not addressed in the pretrial motions.

The citation for transferring a license accuses him of loaning a 2011 Montana elk license to another for killing a bull elk. And the citation for assisting an unqualified applicant accuses him of helping his nonresident son obtain Montana resident conservation, deer and elk licenses in 2015.

According to a search warrant application written by warden Lloyd, the investigation into Downing’s residency began in 2013 when the Montana Department of Revenue asked FWP to look into whether Downing met residency requirements for Montana hunting, fishing and trapping licenses. DOR said it believed Downing had illegally purchased resident licenses.

Downing recently had to defend his residency status at a Republican Senate debate held by College Republicans at Montana State University. The Republican was asked to ease concerned voters and address the alleged misdemeanor charges against him. Downing said the citations were clearly an orchestrated attack and that hunting and fishing have been a big part of his life.

“I plan on fighting it, and I will win this,” Downing said at the debate.

The Chronicle also confirmed with the San Diego assessor’s office that Downing had been receiving a tax exemption for a home he owns in Fallbrook, California, about 60 miles north of San Diego. Downing has received the exemption since 2005, which is for homeowners if the home is their primary residence.

In response to the Chronicle’s initial reporting on the details from FWP’s investigation, Downing’s campaign manager Kevin Gardner called the investigation an orchestrated attack on Downing.

“It’s unfortunate the liberal Montana FWP deep state is on a witch hunt,” he said.

Downing plans to call his new accountant Majorie Knaub and Spencer McInvaille, a digital forensic technician, as expert witnesses in the trial.

Downing is seeking the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in 2018 along with State Auditor Matt Rosendale, state Sen. Albert Olszewski of Kalispell and former Billings judge Russell Fagg. Campaign contribution filings show Downing leads with roughly $857,000 raised, Rosendale $764,000, Fagg $615,000 and Olszewski $209,000.

Justice of the Peace Bryan Adams has not ruled on the pretrial motions.

Freddy Monares can be reached at 406-582-2630, or by email at fmonares@dailychronicle.com.

Reporter

Freddy Monares covers politics and county government for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

Support quality local journalism. Become a subscriber.

Subscribers get full, survey-free access to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's award-winning coverage both on our website and in our e-edition, a digital replica of the print edition.