Heavy Jail Time and Fines Levied in Sheep Poaching Case
A "STOP POACHING" tip led to the conviction of two Greybull men for poaching two bighorn sheep rams on the North Fork of the Shoshone River last December and has taken the penalties for wildlife violations to a new level.
A 39-year-old man was sentenced to two years in Park County jail and his accomplice, a 33-year-old man, will serve one year. In unprecedented sentencing, the 39-year-old will lose his hunting and fishing privileges for 50 years, while the 33-year-old will lose his privileges for 10 years.
In a jury trial held last June, the first man was convicted of two counts of wantonly taking a bighorn ram and two counts of taking a bighorn ram without a license and out of season. During the same trial, the second man was convicted of two counts of aiding and abetting in first man's violations.
Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters sat patiently for nearly eight hours during the sentencing hearing October 12. When both sides had made their arguments, Waters sentenced the first man to four years in jail with credit for the 11 days he had previously served and ordered him to pay $44,620 in fines, restitution and court cost.
Judge Waters stated that if he could send him to prison he would. The man's violations are not felonious in nature and because county jails are not equipped for long-term sentences, one year of the man's jail sentence was suspended for one year of electronic monitoring or home arrest and two years of supervised probation. The man must pay for the cost of the monitoring equipment. While serving his jail sentence, the judge will allow a once-a -month furlough for professional counseling at the man's expense.
The second man received two years in county jail with credit for two days served and was granted a work release. One year of his sentence was suspended provided he serves one year of supervised probation. Fines, restitution and court costs were levied against him for $19,560.
The court ordered the first man to pay $30,000 restitution for the two rams after hearing testimony that on average, a Wyoming bighorn sheep license brings $30,780 at auction. The court further stated that the second man is "jointly and severally responsible" for the second ram. In essence, both men split the restitution on the second ram unless one of them defaults.
Although the second man's jail term, fines and restitution were less severe than the first man's, the remainder of their sentences was similar. Judge Waters ordered that neither defendant may violate any local, state or federal law. Upon release from custody, each defendant must report to the Department of Corrections, Probations and Parole within 24 hours. In addition, they must comply with all the rules and regulations of that Department.
The judge went on to state that neither defendant may take (as defined by Wyoming Statute) any wildlife nor shall they accompany, aid or assist any other person (as defined by Wyoming Statute) in Wyoming or any other location that is taking an animal as defined by Wyoming Statute. They may not be employed in any manner that is related to wildlife and their probation officer must approve all employment.
Neither defendant can receive or possess any newly acquired animal parts while on probation and shall immediately provide a current list of all animal parts to their probation officer, which the defendant currently possesses. The only wild game that the men will be allowed to be near is that of a gift of legally acquired game meat or fish.
They cannot possess any firearm, archery equipment, or any other equipment used for the purpose of hunting, fishing or trapping. This includes but is not limited to hunting knives, ammunition, binoculars, saws, spotting scopes, etc. Neither defendant may own or possess or be in any location where hunting equipment, including guns, knives, or archery equipment is stored or kept or temporarily held or maintained.
Furthermore, neither defendant is allowed to be upon the premises of any national forest, national park, state forest, state park or game reserve. In addition, they cannot participate in any hunting or camping activities.
With regard to their monetary obligations, they must be paid pursuant to a payment plan approved and endorsed by their probation officer. The plan must be submitted to the court and county attorneys office.
To determine compliance with the terms of probation, their probation officer or any law enforcement officer including a game warden can search their person, vehicle, residence or any other thing within their dominion and control. It is illegal for either man to possess, obtain, or attempt to obtain any license or preference points issued by the G&F or any other entity pursuant to Wyoming statutes.
Judge Waters specifically instructed the first man that he is not to initiate contact with Cody game warden Craig Sax, the investigating officer. "The most significant aspect of this case was the fact that two men, who were currently under license suspension for past wildlife violations, chose to go sheep hunting on Christmas Eve and got caught," said Sax. He added that the range of penalties for prosecutors, are useful deterrents for violations and the higher- end penalties are useful and appropriate for this case. "We don't see the maximum penalties applied very often but in this case, the system worked as it should," said Sax.
The second man's arrest record indicated that in 1991, he was cited for failure to tag a black bear. Then in 1995, he was cited for taking a black bear after the season closure. In 2000, he was arrested for an overlimit of elk. Prior to his arrest in 2001, he was cited for obtaining a license while under suspension.
In 1980, the first man was cited as an accessory to taking a deer out of season with archery equipment and had his hunting privileges suspended for one year and one month. Ten years later he was arrested for trespassing, taking an elk without a proper license, waste of game meat and false oath on an Interstate game tag. Then in 1991, he was charged as an accessory to taking an elk out of season and trespassing. In 1992, he was arrested for obtaining benefits by fraud. According to the records, he had paid his restitution, but had not paid his fine and an outstanding warrant for his arrest was issued. This warrant tripped him up on Christmas Eve, 2000.
The STOP poaching tip was initially routed through the Park County Sheriff's Office. The reporting party had observed one of the two sheep killed. Two hours later, he saw it dead on the hillside. To his credit, the concerned citizen did not intrude upon the crime scene, allowing the investigation to proceed unhampered.
Warden Sax soon thereafter received the message and drove up the North Fork to meet with the reporting party. On his way to the site, Sax passed a vehicle stopped along the roadside and observed blood on the tailgate of the white pick-up truck. Upon identifying the individuals in the vehicle and running an enforcement background check on them, the outstanding warrant for the first man was discovered. Subsequent to his arrest by Park County authorities, the man admitted to killing two bighorn sheep.
During the sentencing, the two poachers were described by prosecuting attorney Kelly Rankin, as being serial poachers. "The most significant thing about this case and its outcome is that it should send a clear message to other would-be poachers that we take wildlife violations seriously and that in this case, justice was served," he said. He further stated that in his opinion, there is a need for more serious penalties when it come to chronic poaching. "Felony charges may be appropriate," said Rankin.
According to Rankin, both men are to report to the Park County jail November 12, unless they appeal their sentences.
Wyoming's Chief Game Warden Jay Lawson said this case exemplifies the problems Wyoming faces. "We are seeing an evolution in poaching where we have gone from the days when people poached animals out of season for food, to the modern day 'wildlife criminals' who choose to illegally hunt the biggest and the best animals, taking away opportunities for legal hunters and stealing from the people of Wyoming," said Lawson.
Lawson further stated that this case also demonstrates how effective citizen participation in wildlife law enforcement can be. "We are extremely pleased more and more people are assisting in our wildlife enforcement efforts by using our 'STOP Poaching' program," added Lawson.
To report wildlife violations, call the STOP Poaching Hotline at (800) 442-4331. The hotline is available "24-7," said Lawson.
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