The frustration of fruitless, long, cold, early morning stakeouts of areas vexed by multiple deer poachings near Cody this past fall and winter, turned to satisfaction for wildlife officers September 17, with a significant sentence levied on one of the violators. A 37-year-old man was sentenced to four months in Park County Jail, fined $5,000 and ordered to pay $15,000 restitution for his part in the deer-poaching spree stretching from October 2000 to January 10, 2001 in the South Fork of the Shoshone River Valley and Meeteetse vicinity.
The man, a Cody construction worker, pleaded not guilty April 12 to 12 violations in the case and was scheduled for a July 11 jury trial. Through plea negotiations with the Park County Attorney's Office, he pleaded guilty to 10 violations including four counts of taking an antlered deer out of season, commonly known as the "winter range" statute, four counts of wanton destruction of a big game animal, one count of hunting deer without a license and one count of hunting in a closed season.
Park County Circuit Judge Bruce Waters also revoked the man's privilege to purchase hunting and fishing licenses for 10 years, and placed him on one-year supervised probation. He will also forfeit a .25-06 bolt-action rifle used in the crimes. "All the deer had 4-point racks and all but one of the deer killed by him were 'trophy class' animals most hunters yearn to get a chance at," said Cody game warden Tim Fagan, who led the investigation in the case.
The man's restitution was assessed at $2,500 for each of the six mule deer he admitted killing. The rifle will likely be sold along with other hunting equipment forfeited by individuals convicted across the state of taking an antlered big game animal out of season or wanton destruction of big game.
When asked by Judge Waters why he committed the crimes, the man replied, "It was for the horns," and he "got carried away." He also admitted that the use of controlled substances contributed to the crimes.
"I'm very satisfied with the sentence," Fagan said. "Judge Waters showed he really cares about the state's wildlife."
Park County assistant attorney Dale Chiapuzio said the man took officers to the crime scenes and contributed valuable information to the investigation.
A 37-year-old Cody woman was also involved in the case and pleaded guilty in May to shooting from a public road and was fined $210. A 35-year-old Cody resident will face charges at a later date for one count of the "winter range statute" for killing a buck white-tailed deer along the South Fork of the Shoshone River. Charges are pending on another Cody man in the case.
Wildlife officers were investigating several instances of buck deer shot and either completely abandoned or with only heads removed through November and December, until a tip accelerated the pace and narrowed the scope of the investigation.
Fagan, along with fellow game warden Craig Sax and wildlife investigator Lin Bashford served a search warrant January 12 on Durham's rented storage shed. The officers found five sets of deer antlers, a rifle, a spotlight and other evidence possibly connected with the poaching activity.
Chiapuzio cited the officers for a "well-documented and comprehensive" investigation. Officers also discovered drug paraphernalia in the search which led to the first man being charged for possession of methamphetamine by the Cody Police Department. He pleaded guilty to that charge January 13 and was fined $750 and sentenced to 10 days in jail.
With a tip playing a key role in this investigation, Fagan urges citizens to report wildlife violations by calling the "Stop Poaching" hotline at (800) 442-4331. Callers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward.
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