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CHRONIC POACHING COSTS DOUGLAS MAN $31,230 AND LIFETIME HUNTING/FISHING PRIVILEGES
CASPER – More than a dozen crimes against wildlife cost a Douglas man $31,230 in fines and the loss of hunting and fishing privileges for life. Richard L. Followell also faces nationwide extradition and three years in jail if he does not pay the fines.
The charges are the result of an investigation that began in 1996. During the spring of that year, Douglas Game Warden Rod Lebert received an anonymous tip about wildlife that had been poached in Converse and surrounding counties. Upon investigation, Lebert discovered eight different locations where deer and antelope had been killed and the antlers or horns removed. At one of the locations he also found an illegally killed bobcat and the remains of numerous other wildlife. Although leads in the case pointed to Followell, 45, circumstances prevented an apprehension at that time.
During the fall of 2004, Converse County issued an outstanding warrant for Followell on unrelated charges. When Converse County deputies and Game and Fish wardens apprehended the suspect, Lebert was able to charge him with two non-bondable counts of wanton destruction from the 1996 incidents. Wildlife crimes do not have a statute of limitations in Wyoming. Upon his arrest, Followell confessed to the other six poaching violations. Facing steep fines, he asked for and was granted permission to leave Wyoming to earn enough money to pay the fines. He was ordered to return to Douglas in spring of 2005 to face the remaining charges in the case.
He was also ordered by the court to return all antlers and horns obtained through his crimes, and all were recovered except for a set of horns from a large antelope that was killed near the Douglas Raceway. Lebert and Converse County Investigator Eric Koss tracked the antelope head to a taxidermist in Colorado. But the head had already been sold on the black market to a motel owner. Game and Fish investigators are still working to recover the head.
Followell did not return for the 2005 court date and a warrant was issued for his arrest. During the week of Sept. 4, 2006, Lebert received an anonymous call that Followell was once again in the area. Lebert, along with Natrona County Deputies Bart Olsen and Corey Davidson, tracked Followell to a house in Casper but he was not found there. Followell later called Koss and turned himself in.
Lebert and Koss interviewed Followell and worked out a plea agreement with the Converse County Attorney’s Office in which Followell pleaded guilty to 13 charges including six antler statute violations (taking antlered big game out of season or without a license), six charges of wanton destruction and taking furbearers without a license. Circuit Court Judge Vincent Case accepted the pleas. Due to the severity of the case, Game and Fish dropped 32 additional charges, including shooting from a vehicle, shooting from a road, trespass, spotlighting big game and using an illegal firearm for big game.
Followell currently is a pipeline worker in Alaska and his employer agreed to send $1,000 a month from his salary to Converse County Court to settle the fines. If the total $31,230 payment is not made, Followell will be extradited back to Wyoming to serve the three-year jail term. His loss of hunting and fishing privileges will also be recognized in 21 other states under the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact.
Lebert is pleased with the outcome of the case. “The judge in Converse County feels that these crimes were important and imposed heavy fines,” he said. “Tourism and hunting are a big part of Wyoming so our wildlife resources are important. We take a strong stand on protecting our wildlife resources.”
TIME, DISTANCE DON’T THWART WILDLIFE CRIME INVESTIGATIONS
CASPER – Wyoming Game and Fish Department investigators recently closed two poaching cases that resulted in more than $3,900 in fines and send a message to poachers that time and distance are not an obstacle when it comes to solving wildlife crimes in Wyoming.
In the first case,Scott A. Johnson, 37, of Cheyenne was fined $200 for transferring an antelope license and $200 for transferring a deer license to his cousin, James J. Kiesow of Falls Creek, Wis., in October 2004. Kiesow, 34, then harvested an antelope and a mule deer in Converse County on the illegally transferred licenses. Following an investigation, Kiesow was fined $410 for taking an antelope without a license and $410 for taking a deer without a license, and investigators confiscated the mounted deer and antelope heads as evidence. Kiesow was also fined $510 for hiring a person not
“Transferring licenses is serious and it’s all too common,” Ehlebracht said. “We do our best to catch violators, even if it is out of state or several years later. There is no statute of limitations on any wildlife crime in Wyoming.”
In an unrelated case in Albany County, three men – Chad A. Berens of Casper, Todd M. Collins of Benson, Minn.. and Bryan W. Edwards of Bloomington, Minn. – were fined for harvesting big game animals without a license. The men were hunting in Albany County when Collins, 35, and Edwards, 37, each shot the same cow elk. Neither man had a license and they were each fined $780 for taking an elk without a license.
Berens, 32, faced a different set of fines for harvesting an antelope in Albany County without a license. He also provided a false statement to obtain a resident Wyoming small game license while still a Nebraska resident. Following a Game and Fish investigation, he was fined $410 for taking an antelope without a license and an additional $210 for providing a false statement to procure a license.
Tips to the Game and Fish Department led Investigator Jim Gregory to Minnesota and Wisconsin, where he interviewed Edwards and Collins. Both men eventually confessed to taking an elk without a license.
WRIGHT STUDENTS SENTENCED IN ANTELOPE/DEER SHOOTING SPREE
GILLETTE - Four high school students and a college student from Wright were recently convicted and sentenced for their involvement in two separate poaching sprees.
Travis A. Belt, 18, and a 17-year-old juvenile were convicted April 6 of two counts of wanton destruction of a big game animal and shooting from a vehicle. They were sentenced by Campbell County Circuit Court Judge Terrill Tharp to $1,090 in fines, 45 days in jail with all but 2 days suspended, 6 months probation and revocation of hunting privileges for 6 years.
Dane M. Reid, 19, a student at Black Hills State College in Spearfish, S.D. and Kyle T. Huseth, 18, were convicted of being accessory to both wanton destruction and shooting from a vehicle. Judge Tharp sentenced them each to a $560 fine, 30-day suspended jail sentence, 6 months probation and revocation of hunting privileges for 3 years.
A 16-year-old juvenile was convicted April 14 of one count of wanton destruction of a big game animal and shooting from a vehicle and received the same sentence as Reid and Huseth. His case was handled by Campbell County Circuit Court Judge William Edwards.
The sentences administered by the judges were those recommended by the Campbell County Attorney's Office and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
South Gillette Game Warden Aaron Kerr said the case began Feb. 6 with an anonymous call to the Stop Poaching Hotline. "The caller provided detailed information about several deer and antelope that had been shot and left to rot on February 5, 2006," Kerr said. "The caller also provided information about a buck mule deer that had been illegally killed in November."
Acting on this information, Kerr was able to retrieve the 4-by-4 antlers from a buck mule deer, which had been cut off and hidden in the back of a coal haul truck parked in Wright. Kerr and Newcastle Game Warden Dustin Shorma were also able to locate two doe antelope and a doe deer carcass in the field that had been shot.
Kerr, Shorma, North Gillette Game Warden John Lund and Wildlife Investigator Scott Adell conducted interviews of the suspects and were able to piece together further details of the crime, including confirmation of two more antelope and another deer killed in the spree. Kerr said that once contacted, both the young men and their parents cooperated with the investigation. One of the high school students had already confessed to his parents before being contacted by officers.
Based on the investigation, it was found that Belt, Huseth and the 17-year-old juvenile had killed the buck deer in November and taken its antlers. On Feb. 5, Belt, Reid and both juveniles shot and killed several doe deer and antelope from their vehicles while driving on county roads east of Wright. The rifles used by the young men were .243, .223 and .22 caliber and 7.62 millimeter.
"We aren't sure how many animals were actually killed because they were shooting into herds as they saw them," said Kerr. "Unfortunately, this type of activity happens more often that we'd like to think. This time, things worked out because someone came forward and provided critical information that was needed to begin an investigation. Without the help of this informant, these poachers probably may not have been caught."
This case was similar to a crime incident that took place north of Gillette near the Powder River last fall, where several Campbell County High School students shot multiple deer and left them to waste. These deer were shot with .22 caliber rifles, at night, after the season had closed. Sentences in this case were similar to the Wright case.
"These were both very disturbing cases, and have outraged local residents, especially hunters and landowners," said Lund, who led the investigation of that case. "With the combination of suspended hunting privileges, fines, jail and probation, I am cautiously optimistic that these kids learned something, and will have a little more respect for wildlife in the future."
THANKSGIVING INVESTIGATIONS AND ARRESTS YIELD SPRINGTIME CONVICTIONS IN PINEDALE
PINEDALE - Pinedale game wardens spent much of the Thanksgiving weekend investigating two multiple deer poaching cases and gave thanks in March and April to convictions received by two violators.
For a nighttime poaching spree Nov. 26-27 near Boulder claiming four mule deer bucks, Michael Benjamin Acuna, was assessed $17,000 in fines and restitution - plus sentenced to 2-3 years in the Wyoming State Penitentiary for being a felon in possession of a firearm when committing the crimes.
Acuna, 37, was convicted of one count of the "winter range statute" for taking an antlered deer out of season, two counts of wanton destruction of deer, one count of taking a deer out of season and one count of using artificial light to take a deer. He was also sentenced to 2.5 years in the Sublette County Jail to run concurrently with his prison term and had his hunting, fishing and trapping privileges revoked for 20 years.
During sentencing March 23, Sublette County Circuit Judge John Crow said the fines and restitution would be waved if a $5,500 donation to the Wyoming Wildlife Protector's Association - administrator of the Stop Poaching Program - was made before the defendant's future parole was ended.
District Court Judge Norman Young sentenced Acuna to the prison term for the felony charge on April 6.
Game wardens were first alerted to the Acuna case at 4 a.m. Nov. 27 while keeping the apartment of a suspect in another case under surveillance. The sheriff's office was looking for a man who had trespassed into a Pinedale residence to sleep on a couch. The Wyoming Highway Patrol later located the suspect at a convenience store and notified the Game and Fish Department of a buck mule deer in the back of his truck. The suspect, Michael Acuna, was booked into the Sublette County Jail for being a felon in possession of a firearm and the out-of-season deer.
Around 3 p.m. Game Warden Herb Haley obtained a search warrant and inspected the truck. Acuna claimed the deer - although a mule deer - was shot in the Sheridan area where the whitetail season was still open. When confronted with receipts found in the vehicle that tied him to Pinedale for the last 24 hours, Acuna claimed the deer was then shot near South Pass, where the season was also closed.
A call received earlier that morning reporting two dead buck mule deer in the Burnt Lake area shed some light on Acuna's South Pass alibi, but raised another question. Off-road tire tracks crisscrossing the sagebrush terrain at the scene matched the tread on Acuna's vehicle, but a deer hide and gut pile found there were not from the deer in Acuna's truck. In subsequent interviews, Acuna admitted to killing the Burnt Lake deer including another buck, which he field-dressed and skinned, before traveling about 6 miles to the Mesa area. During his travels, he encountered another bigger buck - with approximately 24-inch wide and heavier antlers - shot and loaded it, while discarding the skinned carcass from the previous location. Acuna later assisted the investigation by drawing officers a map to find the fourth deer.
Acuna told officers he drove to Pinedale from Jackson the previous day in his girlfriend's pick-up and decided to shoot deer to help vent pent-up rage. The deer were shot in the head or neck from 30-60 yards with a friend's 30.06 rifle.
"The poaching occurred in the middle of a large migration route used by thousands of deer to get to their winter range from the highly coveted Sublette Mule Deer herd," said South Pinedale Game Warden Brian Nesvik. "In the one evening killing spree, in a violent rage and by his own admission heavily intoxicated, this man killed more buck mule deer than many Wyoming sportsman harvest in decades of hunting."
Acuna was held in the Sublette County Jail until his girlfriend posted his $25,000 bond in late December. Following his April 6 district court appearance, Acuna was returned to the penitentiary in Rawlins where he previously served nearly 4 years for aggravated assault.
When the Acuna case unfolded, game wardens Haley, Nesvik and Brad Hovinga of Big Piney were on duty to investigate and arrest suspects in another case of poaching two mule deer. The result of that work were two Pinedale energy field workers being charged for their roles in poaching a buck and a doe Nov. 24 near Boulder and Fremont lakes.
Billy Joe Lyle, 46, was convicted April 6, 2006 of one count of wanton destruction and one count of accessory to taking a deer out of season. Judge Crow fined him $1460 and assessed $1,000 in restitution, revoked his hunting and fishing privileges for 6 years and ordered him to serve 60 days in the Sublette County Jail with all but six days suspended. The $1,000 restitution was waived for a $500 donation to the protector's association.
Raymond G. Herring, 46, was charged with taking a deer out of season and accessory to taking a deer out of season. He left town before entering a plea and forfeited a $500 bond. A warrant has been issued for his arrest. Herring is a white male, 6 foot 1 inch, approximately 240 pounds with brown hair and blue eyes.
"The quick apprehension of these suspects and resolution of both of these cases would not have been possible without the assistance of County Attorney Ralph Boynton over the Thanksgiving weekend," Nesvik said. "He was available when needed during the holiday to offer advice and guidance, including obtaining the search warrant, to help us build solid cases."
An anonymous tip led officers to the pair and searches of Herring's apartment and Lyle's camp trailer yielding packages of venison and bloody butchering equipment. First Lyle and then Herring took officers to the crime scenes where the deer were shot with a .22 caliber rifle. The buck, which Lyle described as "pretty big" was not recovered.
Lyle, who works as a welder, lists his permanent residence as Queen City, Texas. Herring worked as a drill hand and had his truck registered in Hephzibah, Ga.
Anyone spotting Herring or has information about any other wildlife violation, is urged to call the Stop Poaching Hotline at (800) 442-4331. Callers can remain anonymous and are eligible for a cash reward if the information leads to a conviction.
ANONYMOUS TIP LEADS TO CONVICTION IN ALCOVA ANTELOPE POACHING INCIDENT
CASPER - A 32-year-old Alcova man lost his hunting and fishing privileges for two years and was ordered to pay substantial fines in Natrona County Circuit Court after he confessed to killing two antelope out of season in February.
On Feb. 27, Game and Fish Department personnel received a tip about the possible poaching of a mature buck and a yearling doe antelope. The animals were killed in the early evening of Feb. 26. After some meat was removed, the carcasses were dumped along Kortes Road in the town of Alcova.
Information from an anonymous source led Game and Fish law enforcement personnel to suspect Benton S. Bowman. Wildlife Technician Jon Stephens investigated the scene and later secured a warrant to search Bowman's residence for evidence tying him to the crime. Stephens and Investigative Supervisor Mike Ehlebracht contacted Bowman at his residence just as he arrived home on Feb. 27. Bowman, an employee of a Casper transportation company at the time, then confessed to the crime and consented to a search of his home. During the search Game and Fish personnel recovered meat from the pronghorns and the Remington Model 700 .300 Winchester short magnum caliber rifle that was used to kill the antelope.
Stephens said Bowman, who was cooperative with law enforcement personnel, was charged with two counts of taking big game during closed season and two counts of waste of a big game animal. He was sentenced March 10. He was also issued warnings for taking big game from a roadway, hunting big game on private land without permission and failure to produce a hunter education card.
MAGPIES AND SIZE-18 BOOTS LEAD TO WINTER RANGE CONVICTION NEAR CHEYENNE
CHEYENNE - Magpies identified the crime scene and size-18 boot prints identified the suspect in the poaching of a large mule deer buck near the small town of Horse Creek just northwest of Cheyenne Dec. 13.
The large boots were worn by Mark W. Brumley who was sentenced Feb. 14 in Laramie County Circuit Court of violating Wyoming statute 23-3-102(d), commonly known as the "winter range statute," for taking an antlered big game animal out of season. Brumley, a sergeant at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, was ordered to pay $4,000 in restitution, fined $5,000 with $4,000 suspended, given a 180-day suspended jail sentence and placed on probation for 1 year.
Judge Denise Nau stipulated that during probation, Brumley, 31, cannot use a firearm and is required to make monthly payments to the court to pay the fine and restitution. If the $5,000 is not paid by February 2007, his probation will be extended until the restitution and fine are settled.
Brumley's 7 mm magnum rifle was also confiscated, and the Game and Fish has initiated the permanent forfeiture process for the firearm.
"This case demonstrates that the court system takes the winter range statute very seriously," said Mark Nelson, game warden who investigated the case.
During sentencing Judge Nau said the penalties will hopefully serve as an opportunity for other individuals to take notice and not commit the same crime.
The case started late afternoon Dec. 15 when curious about a concentration of magpies on the Parker Gulch Hunter Management Area near Horse Creek, Nelson discovered a deer gut pile. With the HMA only open for elk and antelope hunting and the deer season closing Nov. 6, Nelson examined the crime scene finding a size-18 boot print and the unique track of the carcass being drug over the snow on a tarp. Next he studied the roster of hunters who had received permission slips for the area and noticed a 6-foot 10-inch hunter named Mark Brumley.
Accompanied by a representative of the Air Force's Office of Special Investigation Dec. 19, Nelson went to Brumley's on-base residence. The suspect was not home, but the officers confirmed the tire tracks at the crime scene matched the tread on Brumley's truck. Brumley was located on base and brought to the OSI office for questioning where he readily admitted to the violation. He told officers he killed the deer near sundown on Dec. 13, dragged it approximately 100 yards for concealment and returned at approximately 4 a.m. the following morning to retrieve the carcass using the tarp so it would not leave a blood trail.
Brumley invited the officers into his garage where they found the heavy-antlered 3-by-3 deer, the tarp used in dragging the deer, Brumley's Ruger bolt action rifle and the boots that made the airman a suspect. Also hanging in the garage was a fork-horn mule deer buck tagged with his Nebraska muzzleloader deer license - but that had not been checked in as required by Nebraska regulation. Brumley said he killed the deer "just across the state line" on Dec. 9. On Dec. 29, he drove to Kimball, Neb. and had the deer officially checked in.
During sentencing, Judge Nau commended Brumley for not leaving the Wyoming deer to waste and his cooperation with officers, and said she took those factors into consideration when constructing his sentence. Prosecutor Mike Crosson requested a $5,000 fine, $4,000 restitution and a 7-year revocation of Wyoming hunting privileges.
"Restitution now goes to Wyoming's access program, which seems particularly appropriate in this case with the violation being committed on a hunter management area," Nelson said.
The deer was confiscated and after testing negative for chronic wasting disease, the meat was donated to needy families. The 26-inch-wide antlers will likely be used for educational purposes.
Brumley, originally from Shepard, Mont., pleaded guilty to the charge in Laramie County Circuit Court on Jan 10. Judge Nau delayed sentencing to Feb. 14 because of the severity of the charge.
Prior to the violation, Brumley had visited the Cheyenne Game and Fish Office several times to discuss Wyoming hunting opportunities.
SEARCH AND RESCUE CALL PROMPTS ROCK SPRINGS MEN TO SEARCH FOR FINE MONEY
PINEDALE * A search and rescue call culminated in a search warrant and two Rock Springs men searching for over $17,000 to pay their fines for a two-county poaching spree this fall.
On Sept. 21, when rescue personnel reached a pick-up truck impaled off-road on rocks in the foothills of the Wind River Mountains east of Boulder, they found an untagged doe mule deer in the truck.
The investigation of what appeared to be a single out-of-season deer then escalated with information from another hunter of a truck matching the description being involved in shooting and leaving a mule deer buck. Upon finally locating the suspects in Rock Springs, the case escalated further when multiple interviews and a search warrant identified seven deer and a buck antelope illegally killed and largely wasted by the men.
The result was Samuel J. Buck and James T. Mason from Rock Springs being recently convicted of multiple wildlife violations in Sublette and Sweetwater counties, including Wyoming statute 23-3-102(d), commonly known as the "winter range statute."
Buck, 34, was convicted in Sublette County of taking a deer out of season, overlimit of deer, transfer of license and failure to tag a deer. Circuit Court Judge John Crow fined him $1,120, suspended his hunting privileges for 5 years and ordered him to serve 180 days in jail with 145 days suspended.
In Sweetwater County, he was convicted under the winter range statute for taking an antlered deer out of season, accessory to taking a buck antelope out of season, wanton destruction of a deer and waste of game meat. Circuit Court Judge E. Victoria Schofield sentenced him to $9,165 in fines and public defender fees, a 6-month suspended jail sentence, 6 months probation and a 3-year suspension of hunting privileges.
An additional count of both taking an antlered deer in a closed season and wanton destruction were dismissed by the judge in a plea agreement.
Mason, 23, was convicted of taking a doe deer out of season, failure to tag a big game animal and using improper ammunition to take big game in Sublette County. His sentence included a $1,090 fine, 5-year suspension of hunting privileges, 30-day jail sentence with 15 days suspended and 18 months probation.
In Sweetwater County, he was convicted under the winter range statute for taking a horned antelope in a closed season, waste of game meat and accessory to taking an antlered deer in a closed area. Mason was fined $6,090, given a 1-year suspended jail sentence and placed on 1 year of probation.
The investigation began Sept. 21 when the duo drove through the Wyoming Game and Fish Department's Scab Creek Elk Feedground off-road onto private land where they impaled the truck on rocks and summoned search and rescue by calling 9-1-1. When the Sublette County Sheriff's Department reached the remote area, deputies discovered the mule deer in the stranded truck and notified the Game and Fish.
Game Warden Herb Haley responded Sept. 22, but was unable to locate the suspects. Buck had been released from the Pinedale Medical Clinic the night before after being treated for a sprained ankle and Buck's girlfriend drove the pair back to Rock Springs. In further investigation, Game Warden Brian Nesvik encountered a friend who had heard from another hunter that occupants of a vehicle matching the stranded truck shot and left a mule deer buck Sept. 17.
Neither of the suspects had a published residence and officers were unable to locate the men until notified by the Rock Springs Police Department Oct. 1 that Buck was in custody on an unrelated destruction of property felony charge. Due to the demands of many big game seasons opening Oct. 1 in the Pinedale area, the game wardens began interviewing Buck at the Rock Springs jail Oct. 3. Buck told the game wardens where to locate Mason, and Mason along with Buck's girlfriend and an acquaintance of the men were brought to the jail for interviews.
A total of 15 hours of interviews confirmed the Boulder-area report of the men shooting and abandoning a buck deer. Officers also discovered the Rock Springs duo had killed a third deer near Boulder, which was traded to an energy field worker for camping equipment, and had illegally killed four deer and a buck antelope south of Rock Springs in early September.
The Rock Springs Police Department temporarily released Buck to the custody of the game wardens for Buck to escort the officers south of Rock Springs and show them two deer he and Mason shot and left in early September.
All four Sweetwater county deer * three bucks and one doe * were shot in hunt area 102, which had the difficult drawing odds in 2005 of 10 percent for residents and 4.5 percent for nonresidents. Buck and Mason said all the deer and antelope were killed in one outing near sunset. They left the animals in the field and returned at night to transport one deer and an antelope back to Rock Springs.
Buck and Mason described the antelope, taken in hunt area 59, as a "big buck." In 2005, residents hunters had a 32.7 percent chance of drawing antelope area 59 and nonresidents 10.9 percent.
"The cooperation of the Rock Springs detectives was tremendous and was vital in piecing this serious case together," Nesvik said.
With information from the interviews and Buck's onsite tour, officers obtained and served a search warrant Oct. 4 at the house where Buck, his girlfriend and Mason lived. With help from the detectives and Rock Springs Game Warden Dave Hays, they discovered the men hung deer and antelope carcasses in the basement before partially butchering the animals. The camping equipment that Buck received in trade from an energy field worker in Pinedale for the third Sublette County deer was recovered. The officers also discovered a 3-by-3 buck mule deer head hidden in a crawlspace and Mason's 30.06 rifle. Trading the deer resulted in Buck's transfer of license charge.
When asked why he committed the violations, Buck said he needed the meat to feed his family. The girlfriend told officers a deer and antelope carcass hung in the basement for two weeks.
"This case is a classic example of the importance of reporting a violation, even though only one animal was involved," Nesvik said. "What started with just one animal quickly unfolded into multiple animals, which is not unusual in poaching cases."
Full-metal-jacket, military-type ammunition was found in the truck and the men admitted to shooting deer with the cartridges, which resulted in the charge of improper ammunition. Wyoming regulation requires big and trophy game hunters to use soft and expanding point bullets. The truck remains stranded in the rocks near Boulder. Federal charges are also pending on Buck for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Buck and Mason claimed to be Rock Springs residents off and on for approximately the last 20 years. At the time they were charged, Buck was unemployed and Mason worked in an automotive repair shop.
Anyone with information about a wildlife violation, even if it is secondhand, is urged to call the "Stop Poaching" hotline at (800) 442-4331. Callers can remain anonymous and are eligible for a cash reward if the information leads to a conviction.
POACHING ACTIVITY INCREASING NEAR OIL AND GAS DRILLING SITES IN SW WYOMING
ROCK SPRINGS - Investigators with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department have been involved with three major poaching cases near energy drilling locations in southwest Wyoming in less than a year.
In October, wildlife officers discovered multiple game violations near Pine Mountain southwest of Rock Springs at a coal bed methane drilling location operated by El Paso Corporation, with Ensign as the contracted drilling company. In February, three men were investigated for poaching at Rig 180 operated by BP/Amoco and H&P Drilling Company on Delaney Rim in Sweetwater County.
Rock Springs Game Warden Dave Hays says the El Paso case is complex and would have gone unnoticed had he not been contacted by an anonymous caller. And in December 2004, a Colorado man who identified himself as an energy drill site worker in the Baggs area was also investigated for poaching.
"This was no easy investigation. There were multiple big game animals and game birds, numerous suspects and no one at the drilling location willing to come forward with any information to explain how they got there," Hays said. "A search of the drilling site and surrounding area revealed one 2-by-2 buck mule deer head and four buck antelope heads, one buried fawn antelope and three sage grouse carcasses."
After many interviews and phone calls, the primary suspect is Ivan "Rooster" Gross, 23, of Steinbach, Manitoba, working for Ensign US Drilling as a driller.
A .17 HMR caliber rifle was identified as the weapon used by Gross to kill the deer and antelope was tracked to a co-worker's personal vehicle at the drill site.
According to El Paso Corporation representative Donnie Trimble, company policies strictly prohibit firearms on any location operated by El Paso Corporation. She added the policy also applies to the employees of all sub-contractors associated with the drilling operation.
Officers determined that Ensign employees used a backhoe to dig a hole to bury a whole fawn antelope carcass. It could not be determined if the fawn had been shot or deliberately run down with a vehicle. No one at the location claimed any knowledge about the fawn or who was involved with the excavation.
Interviewed by telephone from his home in Manitoba, Gross admitted killing one buck mule deer, one buck antelope and driving over and killing four sage grouse. These incidents occurred in an Ensign truck, during work hours, on the way to the rig site and in close proximity to the site. Gross skinned and butchered the antelope and deer carcasses at the rig site and most of the meat was cooked and eaten in the crew trailer.
After being confronted with possible penalties and consulting with his attorney, Gross indicated he has no plans on ever returning to the United States to work or face the pending charges against him.
Charges pending against Gross include: Taking antlered or horned wildlife without a license, taking big game with illegal caliber weapon, shooting from a public road, shooting from a vehicle and waste of edible portions. If convicted, Gross could face fines and restitution approaching $30,000, loss of hunting privileges for many years and jail time up to three years.
Hays issued citations to Ensign employees Rafael Arce, 26, of Denver, and James C. Ewbank, 24, of Morris, Manitoba, for possession and transporting wildlife parts (antelope heads) without Interstate Game Tags. Both men claimed that they had cut the heads off of two road-killed antelope. Both paid their fine and forfeited bond of $110 each and had the antelope heads confiscated.
In the Rig 180 case south of Wamsutter, Wesley Wayne Ramzinski, 27, of Austin, Texas, and Randall Eugene Murray, 47, of Riverton were convicted of poaching an antelope and a mule deer. Charges are pending against Jeffrey Joseph Bump, 41, of Sacramento, Calif. for taking a buck antelope out of season.
Ramzinski, drilling supervisor with H&P Drilling, and Murray, a deck hand for H&P, went hunting for "anything" in late December 2004 between Baggs and Creston Junction. With Murray driving, Ramzinski used Murray' s .22 caliber rifle and shot a three-point buck mule deer. In another incident, Ramzinski shot a doe antelope in the Latham Draw Area with a .22 caliber rifle. The two men transported the deer and antelope back to the rig site at Latham Draw, where they stored the meat in a freezer.
In a separate incident, Bump, also a driller with H&P, shot a buck antelope with a .22 caliber rifle also belonging to Murray. Bump loaded the antelope into his company vehicle and brought it back to the rig site, where he skinned the animal and put the meat in the freezer.
Bump fled to California and an arrest warrant has been issued.
Murray was fined $8,060 and had his hunting privileges revoked for 10 years. Ramzinski was fined $2,390 and also had his hunting privileges revoked for 10 years. Together, Murray and Ramzinski will pay $10,000 in restitution.
In the third incident, Gregory Dean Martinez, 46, of Craig, Colo. was investigated for poaching a four-point buck mule deer off Wyoming Highway 789 north of Baggs. Although Martinez slit the throat and partially gutted the deer, he claims he did not shoot the deer. Martinez, who identified himself as an energy drill site worker, was never convicted or prosecuted for the wildlife violation because the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms arrested him first on a previous federal offense.
There is an increasing amount of drilling going on in southwest Wyoming, and these are the only poaching cases the Game and Fish has detected to date. These workers have a lot of time on their hands during the rigging down process. These incidents are occurring in remote places, within a work culture of rig workers who are reluctant to talk about any illegal activities. Game and Fish officers hope that when people find out their highly valued wildlife is being poached, they will get more involved and report poachers.
TEXAS ATTORNEY SENTENCED FOR LICENSE FRAUD
GILLETTE - Add a deer hunting Texas attorney to the list of criminals with an "aka" or "also known as" following their name.
Dale O. O'Neal, Jr. of Ft. Worth, also known as Dave O'Neal and Jack Kemp in Wyoming's big game license draw system, often applied for and received nonresident deer licenses under all three names over the last decade.
After receiving a tip from a landowner, wildlife officers investigated the case resulting in O'Neal pleading guilty to his role in submitting false hunting applications and using the licenses to take or aid in taking overlimits of deer.
O'Neal, 48, had his Wyoming hunting and fishing licenses revoked for life and was ordered to pay $6,070 in fines and restitution. He was recently sentenced by Campbell County Circuit Court Judge William S. Edwards.
In the plea agreement with the Campbell County Attorney's Office, O'Neal pleaded guilty to three counts of overlimit of deer and one count of aiding in taking an overlimit of deer.
O'Neal was originally charged with felony fraud charges related to the submission of documents to a taxidermist following his harvesting of a deer. Following a preliminary hearing, that judge dismissed the felony charge. Subsequently, O'Neal entered a guilty plea to his remaining charges and convictions were entered for those offenses. The sentence imposed by the court required, among other things, that O'Neal make restitution for his illegal conduct.
Although O'Neal, a family law attorney in Ft. Worth, had been under suspicion for several years, the case intensified in October 2003. O'Neal informed the owner of the ranch northwest of Gillette that only his nephew drew a license, so there would only be one hunter in the party. But while hunting on a portion of the ranch where he was not authorized to be, a ranch hand observed O'Neal shooting a deer and later taking it to a Gillette taxidermist.
Curious about O'Neal's actions conflicting with his statements, the ranch owner inquired with the taxidermist. The taxidermist had no record of a Dale O'Neal dropping a deer off but did receive a 5-by-5 buck from a man who identified himself as "Jack Kemp" and matched O'Neal's description.
The landowner alerted Game and Fish Department officers who proceeded to investigate the case over the next year.
The investigation revealed O'Neal applied for deer licenses under bogus names nine years in the past and again in 2003 and 2004. On the applications, O'Neal used the same address for all names and social security numbers of individuals unlikely to apply for Wyoming hunting licenses on the fraudulent applications.
When O'Neal arrived in Gillette Oct. 1, 2004, he was promptly arrested by the Game and Fish and the Campbell County Sheriff's Department. He served one night in the Campbell County Detention Facility, posted bond, hired a Gillette attorney and negotiated the charges until a plea agreement was reached July 25, 2005.
"License fraud is one of the most prevalent crimes being committed against wildlife," said Scott Adell, Game and Fish investigator who led the case. "We will continue to diligently check license records and will prosecute violators who exploit the system while responsible hunters and anglers do everything correct."
When asked why he submitted fraudulent big game applications, O'Neal told officers he was "just being funny," and he wanted to make sure whomever he brought to Wyoming to hunt would have a license.
Almost every year Region C licenses are leftover after the drawing and are available for purchase through the season from the Game and Fish.
Adell said the investigation suggested O'Neal would use the extra fraudulent licenses to take overlimits. The investigation also suggested he would sometimes take a friend or relative hunting and pay the landowner a trespass fee for just one hunter, and then also shoot a deer himself
The same landowner who provided the information in October 2003 that broke the case, first reported possible violations to the Game and Fish in 1996. That information proved inconclusive at the time but aided the 2003-04 investigation.
Adell said the skillful prosecution by Bill Edelman, assistant Campbell County attorney, was vital in obtaining the conviction.
Adell urges anyone with information about license fraud or any other wildlife crime to report it to the Stop Poaching Hotline at (800) 442-4331. Callers can remain anonymous and are eligible for a cash reward if the information leads to a conviction.
DNA TEST AIDS IN CONVICTION OF ROCK SPRINGS POACHER
ROCK SPRINGS -- Thanks to persistence, old-fashioned investigative work, conscientious witnesses and high-tech DNA testing, a Rock Springs man has faced the consequences for poaching a buck mule deer and conducting an elaborate ruse on where it was killed.
Dustin W. Moses, 24, appeared in front of Circuit Court Judge Victoria Schofield on July 27 and was sentenced to a $10,000 fine, $30 court costs, a suspended 180-day jail sentence, $4,000 restitution to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and a five-year suspension of his hunting privileges.
Game Warden Brian Baker says his efforts to bring Moses to justice began in October 2003.
"I received a report on October 6 that an individual had killed a buck mule deer in the Elk Butte area of deer Hunt Area (HA) 102 south of Rock Springs," says Baker. "Hunt area 102 is a limited quota hunting area and anyone who killed a deer in that area is required to have a limited quota permit. In addition, that hunt area did not open until October 15."
Baker says witnesses were able to take down the license plate and vehicle description of a vehicle leaving the area at a high rate of speed and also recognized the two men in the vehicle. The witnesses were able to help Baker backtrack the suspect's tire tracks to a location in HA 102, where residents only had an 11 percent chance of drawing a deer license in 2004.
"We found the site where a buck deer had been killed underneath a juniper tree. We were able to locate footprints, a blood trail, tissue samples from a poached deer and drag marks," says Baker. "The site was strange in that a deer obviously had died there, but there was no gut pile. I took photographs of the crime scene, collected biological samples and took GPS coordinates where the evidence was located. The next step was to interview the suspect.
"Moses denied that he killed a deer in HA 102 and insisted he killed a deer in HA 131, a general hunt area north of Rock Springs. So, I asked him to take me to the site where he killed 'his' deer in HA 131."
Moses, who works at a Rock Springs auto dealership, took Baker to a gut pile on the Hay Ranch.
"I noticed the gut pile had juniper leaves stuck to the outside of it and there was not a juniper visible in any direction from the gut pile," Baker says. "Then he showed me a deer in his grandfather's garage that he claimed he had killed at the location of the gut pile in deer HA 131."
Baker added the 5-by-5 deer was tagged with a Resident General Deer License and the date on the tag was Oct. 5, 2003. Baker took samples of the deer's head and cape.
"Biological samples were submitted to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department Laboratory in Laramie," Baker said. "The lab concluded the DNA sample from the site of the poaching in HA 102, the gut pile Moses showed me in HA131 and the deer head and cape in his grandfather's garage all came from the same deer."
G&F officers served a search warrant and issued Moses a citation in November 2003 for taking an antlered mule deer in a closed area and without a proper license. Moses chose to contest the citation and take it in front of a judge and jury, and on July 29, 2004, was convicted of taking an antlered mule deer in a closed area and without a proper license. However, through various legal motions, Moses' attorney was able to delay the sentencing another year.
Baker is thankful for the outcome of the case and acknowledges his investigation had solid leads from the start due to very observant witnesses, plenty of evidence and the skilled lab scientists trained to use DNA testing in wildlife forensics.
"Moses got caught and justice was served," Baker said. "Witnesses saw him and his vehicle leaving the site of where the deer was poached. He left plenty of evidence to demonstrate he was lying. G&F lab technicians are good at DNA testing and have helped in many wildlife crime convictions.
"I'm thankful to the Sweetwater County Chief Deputy Attorney Tony Howard for his persistence and professionalism through almost two years of dealing with this case. The judge clearly laid out the importance of the hunting heritage in Wyoming and the need for conservation ethics. Honest hunters and people who care about the wildlife can be reassured that poachers do get caught and they will pay the price."
WORLAND MAN GOES BACK TO NATURE; FORGETS TO TAKE HUNTING/FISHING REGULATIONS
LANDER – An investigation into an abandoned vehicle on the Shoshone National Forest between Dubois and Pinedale in 2004 spiraled into a survivalist felon being arrested for possession of a stolen firearm and cited for 15 wildlife violations.
John T. Russell, formerly of Worland, apparently had abandoned society and decided to live off the land for 18 months near the South Fork of Fish Creek near Union Pass surviving in large part on game he poached, according to officers investigating the case.
In a plea agreement with the Fremont County Attorney’s Office concerning the wildlife violations, Russell, 55, pleaded guilty to all 15 counts. The charges ranged from taking antlered moose, elk, deer and squirrels out of season and without licenses to fishing without a license and taking overlimits of fish. Other charges included taking a bull elk with an illegal firearm and attempting to take a sandhill crane without a license, in a closed season, with an illegal firearm and illegal shot.
He was also issued three warning tickets for not possessing a conservation stamp, elk feedground management permit and Harvest Information Program stamp.
Additional charges of illegally possessing a cow moose and two doe deer were dismissed.
Ninth Circuit Court Judge Robert Denhardt recently accepted the plea agreement and fined Russell $1,760 and assessed him $2,250 in restitution for the antlered moose, elk and deer. He was also ordered to serve 43 days in the Fremont County Jail and had his Wyoming hunting and fishing license privileges revoked for 45 years.
The case began Aug. 9, 2004 with U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Phelan Whitehair of Pinedale investigating an abandoned pick-up truck at a locked forest service gate near the Fish Creek Trailhead. When Whitehair discovered Russell rustling around in bed of the truck, Russell gave a false name and claimed that the truck was not his.
The check on the handgun Russell was carrying came back as a stolen firearm and Russell’s story began to unravel. Fremont County Deputy Sheriff Bill Dohse responded and the officers found enough evidence to link Russell with the recent break in of two vehicles in the area where a pistol was stolen. Russell admitted that he had been living in the forest for a year and a half killing a buck mule deer and a bull elk and fishing without a license. Russell was arrested for the firearm theft and transported to the Fremont County Jail in Lander.
Then the difficult task of locating Russell’s camp commenced and eventually, with the assistance of a plane and Russell himself, the camp was located in a small valley near the South Fork of Fish Creek and Little Devils Basin. A large number of wildlife parts were discovered, in addition to more suspected stolen items, and Wildlife Investigator Scott Browning and Dubois Game Warden Cole Thompson began the investigation.
Russell admitted to Browning that he had killed a buck mule deer -- that he claimed was injured -- and a bull elk but declined to talk much about his life in the woods or other wildlife violations. Through other evidence, documentation and DNA results, Browning and Thompson pieced together that Russell had killed an antlered mule deer, elk and moose, five squirrels and attempted to kill a sandhill crane. The officers also determined Russell had fished 45 days and caught trout on 38 of those days. In creeling more than his daily limit nine times, Russell killed 34 more trout than legally allowed. In addition, Russell was in possession of parts of a cow moose and two doe deer, but it couldn’t be determined who killed the animals.
Browning added that Russell’s poaching was documented from Nov. 1, 2003, to Aug. 9, 2004, the day Russell was arrested for the stolen firearm. But Russell claimed to be living in the forest an additional 9 months and said he hadn’t been to town since July 2003.
"We also found only one camp, the summer camp, and I know he moved into this camp from a winter camp, let alone how many others he had," the investigator said. "I strongly suspect Russell was killing more wildlife as the summer progressed in preparation for the next winter. He learned during his first winter that he had better stock up or it would be another long, cold, hungry, season".
Russell initially spent the winter in a lean-to shelter with a continual fire burning and later acquired a dome tent, wall tent, stove and other camp equipment. Russell brought other comforts with him into the woods including a radio, considerable fly tying equipment, sleeping bag and food. Russell also had a black powder .44 caliber, six shot revolver and a black powder .54 caliber rifle.
District Court Judge Norman Young also found Russell guilty on Jan. 27, 2005, in Lander for felony larceny for the revolver stolen during a vehicle break-in. Russell was sentenced to pay $100 in fines, $564 in restitution, $750 for his public defender and three years probation with a 2- to 4-year jail prison sentence suspended. Russell received credit for 177 days he served in the Fremont County Detention Center following the stolen firearm arrest.
Russell had previously been convicted of a felony burglary in Arizona in the 1980s.
"We have all probably wondered what it would be like to live in the woods and live off the land, but in modern times it affects many people," Browning said. "One man, concentrating in one area for a length of time, could have a detrimental affect on some species of wildlife. In addition, there is a fairness and opportunity issue to the license-buying hunters and anglers who follow the rules. With modern wildlife management we try to use season, limit and weapon restrictions to protect wildlife at certain times of the year and to control the take."
Browning cited Thompson, Dohse, Whitehair and the G&F laboratory for building the case and Fremont County Attorney Ed Newell who prosecuted the wildlife violations in addition to the felony larceny case. "Mr. Newell and Judge Denhardt always take wildlife cases seriously and Fremont County hunters and anglers should appreciate this fact," Browning said.
EVANSTON --Ogden, Utah residents Scott E. Day and Daniel R. Fowers came to Wyoming on Oct. 30 to kill a large buck mule deer and put Day’s Utah tag on it. Instead, they got busted.
THREE TIMES A POACHER
Royce Conway of Meniffee, Calif.
got himself in
trouble big-time, three times: killing a deer in the wrong hunt area, killing an
antelope without a license and then wasting the antelope. Even worse, he was
given the opportunity to turn himself in and didn’t.
A local meat processor in Green River alerted Game and Fish Department Game Warden Duane Kerr Oct. 10 to Conway’s activities leading to the discovery of multiple violations.
"Conway dropped a deer at the processor and at that time was also in possession of an antelope carcass," said Kerr. "When asked if he wanted the antelope processed, too, Conway said he had killed the antelope by mistake. The processor gave the hunter directions to the G&F office in town and advised it would probably be of benefit to him to turn himself in."
The next day, the processor called Kerr to see if the man had turned himself in for killing the antelope and was informed he had not. The processor then told Kerr that Conway was visiting a friend in Green River and was to leave town later in the day.
Kerr located Conway and interviewed him about his hunting trip and the antelope he had killed by mistake.
"Conway said that he had killed his deer in hunt area 158 where he was licensed, but couldn’t remember the name of the town near there where he stayed. He then returned to the Rock Springs area to hunt elk in HA 32," said Kerr. "Conway said that after shooting at an elk, which ran off, he proceeded to check for sign of having hit the animal, and found a dying antelope near where the elk stood."
Realizing he had "accidentally" killed the antelope, Conway gutted the antelope and hauled it to town.
"After dropping off the deer, he thought about possibly being in trouble for the antelope, so rather than contacting the G&F, he took it back out in the hills and dumped it," Kerr added. "He not only lied to make the situation worse, he also tried to hide the carcass instead of owning up to the mistake. He has only himself to blame."
During the interview, Conway also admitted that he had killed his deer in area 102 south of Rock Springs, and had never gone to area 158 near Casper. Conway, 44, was cited Oct. 11 for taking a deer in an area where he wasn’t licensed, taking antelope without a license, and waste of the antelope. He forfeited $1,230 in bond for the violations. The area where the deer was killed is a very popular area with less than 5 percent drawing odds for nonresident hunters.
TIME DIDN’T RUN OUT ON DEER CRIME IN MOST SOUGHT-AFTER HUNT AREA
Even if the investigating officer retires, years pass and the trail cools,
poachers are not home free in Wyoming. With no statute of limitations on
wildlife violations in Wyoming, nearly seven years after killing a buck mule
deer without a license in Wyoming’s hardest-to-draw area, a Riverton man was
sentenced for the crime.
Rick L. Capellen, 44, of Riverton pleaded guilty recently to intentionally taking a buck mule deer without a license - Wyoming’s winter range statute - for shooting the 5-by-4 deer Nov. 9, 1997 in area 128 near Dubois.
"Particularly when the caseload gets very heavy, it is considerable consolation to know you won’t have to forfeit a case because it might reach the statute of limitations," said Scott Browning, Game and Fish Department investigator in Lander.
Ninth Circuit Court Judge Robert Denhardt sentenced Capellen to 90 days in the Fremont County Detention Facility. Capellen was also fined $5,030 with $4,400 suspended, assessed $370 in restitution to the state of Wyoming and had his G&F license privileges revoked for five years.
In the plea agreement with the Fremont County Attorney’s Office, charges of failing to stop at an established check station and making a false statement to procure an interstate game tag were dismissed.
The case began shortly following the crime with a report that Capellen had killed "a nice four-point buck mule deer without a license" in the Horse Creek drainage near Dubois. Capellen, who operated a wood stove store in 1997, had a general deer license, but the general season in area 128 closed Oct. 15. On Nov. 1, the area reopened for 100 hunters fortunate to draw the state’s most sought-after deer license despite only 2-to 3-percent drawing odds.
The investigation began with G&F Wildlife Investigator Gary Good and Riverton Game Warden Chris Daubin learning Capellen did not make the required stop at the Dubois Check Station to have the deer inspected. Then it was discovered that Capellen submitted the head to a Riverton taxidermist in late November claiming the deer was shot Oct. 15, the last day of the general season.
Capellen denied the crime, but the officers eventually obtained enough evidence to submit the case to the county attorney’s office for charges. Due to personnel changes in the attorney’s office, combined with Good’s retirement, the case was not completed in 1998.
Browning took over for Good, reopened the case in 2003 and refreshed it with additional interviews. With the new information, Browning issued Capellen the citations in January 2004.
"It’s a shame that Capellen took this hunting opportunity away from a legal license holder," Browning said of the 21-inch wide, 20-inch high rack. "There are a few really big buck deer out there and this one might have also had that potential."
During the rut or breeding season, mule deer bucks are very vulnerable. The G&F tries to protect them during this time, while at the same time providing a very limited hunting opportunity.
Capellen applied for the late season Dubois license but was unsuccessful. "Hundreds of hunters covet that tag but don’t draw," Browning said. "If just a few percent of the unsuccessful applicants stole a deer like Capellen did, the season would be ruined in short order." In 1997, Capellen also drew a bighorn sheep, moose, elk and antelope license.
Browning said, "Deputy County Attorney Ed Newell and Judge Denhardt recognize the value of these bucks in the rut, both to Wyoming sportsmen and to the resource. Attorney Newell was very helpful in seeing the case through to the end and Judge Denhardt levied a fair and firm penalty. The judge let the taxidermist have possession of the mounted deer, so he could recoup his investment. The mount was obtained by the G&F and now hangs in the G&F’s Lander Regional Office as an educational tool.
To the Slammer with ye! You scurvy dog!
(Jackson)-One of the worst Wyoming cases ever of an individual illegally killing big game animals in a single incident reached a plea agreement in circuit court in Jackson. As a result of 11 elk being shot out of season Nov. 24 in the Gros Ventre valley northeast of Jackson, Jackson resident David Elliot Hudson, 20, is currently serving one year in Teton County Jail and was fined $11,000. Circuit Court Judge Tim Day additionally ordered him to pay $11,000 restitution, forfeit a .223 AR-15 rifle and his hunting and fishing license privileges for life and placed him on five years probation. Hudson was charged with nine counts of wanton destruction of big game animals and two counts of knowingly taking an antlered big game animal in a closed season, also known as the "winter range statute." A felony charge of destruction of property valued over $500 was dropped as part of the plea agreement.