Villages 101: Was Mark Morse and his heir-apparent really charged with hunting violations?

Mark Morse and his family own the largest retirement community in the world. They are extremely successful, and in the past, they have wielded a great deal of power in the political arena.

Villages Developer Mark Morse

But many new Villages residents might not know that Morse; his daughter, Kelsea Manly Morse; his wife, M’Lissa; and several associates were charged in November 2010 with a variety of hunting violations in Montana. The charges stemmed from incidents in 2007 and 2008.

In February 2012, Morse, who in late 2014 succeeded his father, the late H. Gary Morse, as head of The Villages, paid a $4,500 fine but avoided going to prison in connection with the hunting violations. Under a plea agreement, four felony charges for illegal possession of a game animal were dropped. Each could have carried a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $50,000 fine. And a second misdemeanor charge of hunting without a license also was dropped.

Morse, who had been accused of “shooting some really nice, big trophy animals,” appeared in court in Montana in both Yellowstone and Big Horn counties alongside James Rainey and Lenard Powell.

Rainey is the owner of Rainey Construction in Wildwood – a company that is tied in tightly with the new construction in the southernmost portion of The Villages. And Powell served as president of LPI Curb Service, another company that did a large amount of business with the Morse family.

Kelsey Morse Manly rides a horse at the M Square Ranch in Montana.

According to a Nov. 4, 2010 posting on the official Montana government website, Morse initially was charged with:

  • Possessing a trophy mule deer buck in 2006 that was killed in Big Horn County in violation of conditions of an outfitter-sponsored license.
  • Helping Rainey with an elk hunt in Big Horn County in September 2008 when neither Morse nor Rainey had an elk license valid in that area.
  • Possessing three mule deer bucks in Big Horn County in November 2008 for which there were not proper tags.
  • Possession of a bull elk taken in 2006 in Yellowstone County in violation of conditions of an outfitter-sponsored license.
  • Killing a bull elk in Yellowstone County in 2007 when he did not have a valid Montana elk license.
  • Helping his daughter kill a wild turkey, for which neither had a license, in the spring of 2007.
  • Helping his daughter hunt, shoot and track a bull elk in 2008 in Yellowstone County, for which neither had a valid license.

Rainey also faced serious charges, according to the Montana website, that included:

  • Hunting elk in Big Horn County without a license in September 2008.
  • Possession of two bull elk and four mule deer killed on two consecutive days in November 2008 in Big Horn County without having legal licenses. Because the value of the animals exceeded $1,000, Rainey was charged with a felony.
  • Two misdemeanor charges of waste of game in Big Horn County in September 2009.
  • Rainey was accused of killing two elk, then removing only the head from one elk and allowing the meat from both carcasses to rot.

Morse’s Yellowstone County plea bargain included a fine and restitution for $2,000 for hunting elk without a license in 2007. A similar agreement in Big Horn County called for him to pay $2,500 for hunting three buck mule deer in 2008 without a license, court records showed.

James ‘Ike’ Rainey and his wife, Clarissa, while bidding on a ranch.

Meanwhile, Rainey was ordered to pay $4,000 in fines and restitution for three buck mule deer he hunted in 2008. And Powell was fined $2,000 for hunting two buck mule deer in 2008.

All three men were allowed to keep their fishing and hunting licenses, the court ruled.

Morse’s daughter, who now serves as operations director of The Villages and appears to be the heir apparent to oversee the mega-retirement community, had already pleaded guilty in May 2011 of hunting a turkey and bull elk without a proper license. She was ordered to pay $2,000 in fines and received a deferred sentence.

Those incidents were believed to have taken place in 2007 and 2008 at the Montana M Square Ranch that was owned by her father and Rainey, court records showed. Kelsea Morse got married at the ranch on Memorial Day Weekend in 2010.

Kelsea Morse Manly

According to the Billings Gazette newspaper, Manly’s attorney, Matthew Wald, told the judge that his client had an elk license but not the license required to hunt with a bow.

Kelsea Morse admitted to state wildlife officials that she shot an elk with a bow, tracked the animal but lost it, Wald said, adding that he didn’t know if the elk survived.

Wald told the judge that hunting is one of the most important things in Manly’s life. And he claimed that she counted on others to purchase and provide her with the proper license.

All told, the Morse family members were among eight people who faced charges after the large-scale wildlife investigation into game hunting violations. Employees of Morse’s ranch also were among those charged.

According to the Gazette, one of the judges in the case admonished Morse, Rainey and Powell to follow Montana’s hunting laws in the future. The judge described the hunting and fishing opportunities in the state known as Big Sky Country as “tremendous” and then said: “One of the ways to preserve that heritage is to follow the law.”

Needless to say, the news of the arrests and the photographs of Mark Morse that appeared online with animals he’d killed greatly upset some residents of The Villages. Many expressed outrage against The Villages Developer. And for a good part of the two-year saga, area residents diligently followed the story online as it was reported by the state of Montana’s website and several newspapers in that state.