Trespassing appeal leads to over 50 charges against 5 Idaho men

Below is a press release from Idaho Fish and Game.

What started as a simple phone call to Idaho Fish and Game about trespassing in the Bahsimiroy Valley during the 2021 spiny-horn shooting season led to an intense investigation with more than 50 wildlife charges against five men in southwestern Idaho.

Charges were filed in six counties in Idaho where the crimes occurred and included trespassing, malicious injury to property, poaching for bass, spearfishing violations, and turkey hunting with electronic calls, as well as multiple deer and fork-hunting violations. Many surcharges cannot be offered due to the one-year statute of limitations on species other than large game.

Penalties were recently issued in several counties, including the August 2022 in Custer County, for five wildlife violators including:

Dean Todd A. Phillips, of Frutland, was charged with five counts, while an additional seven counts were dismissed as part of the plea agreement. He received $6,900 in fines, 12 years of probation, a 12-year hunting license revocation with a seven-year suspension unless he violated his probation, 100 hours of community service in lieu of imprisonment, and 2020 and 2021 forfeitures. He also pleaded guilty to a fishing violation. turkey in Payette County and received a $350 fine and a $1,000 forfeiture payment for deer hunting violations in Adams County. As part of Payette County’s judgment and probation, he may not be in possession of any weapon, including crossbow, air rifles, crossbows, or firearms, in which hunting activities may or may be conducted.

Darren Phillips, of Frutland, was convicted of five counts, while two additional charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement. He received $6,300 in fines, 10 years of probation, a 10-year hunting license revocation with a five-year suspension unless he violated his probation, and 100 hours of community service in lieu of imprisonment.

Braeden T. Phillips, of Payette, was convicted of three counts. He received $3,970 in fines, six years of probation, the revocation of a nine-year hunting license with a six-year suspension unless he violated his probation, and 60 hours of community service in lieu of imprisonment. In addition, his 2021 spinal horn was confiscated, and a $400 bond was paid in Kootenay County for two spearfishing breaches.

Jacob Phillips, of Frutland, was convicted on two counts, while four other charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement. He received $990 in fines, four years of probation, the revocation of a five-year fishing license, and 50 hours of community service in lieu of imprisonment. Since Jacob was under 21 at the time, his fishing privileges can be reinstated after one year if he completes a fishing education course. Jacob also pleaded guilty to one count in Payette County and received a $400 fine.

Jeff Musso, of Parma, was convicted on one count, while three other charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement. He received $1,665 in fines, two years of probation, a three-year license suspension suspended for two years unless he violated probation, and 20 hours of community service in lieu of imprisonment.

Whether wildlife crime is big or small, it’s worth reporting.

“That initial phone call from the public was very significant,” said Chad Webberman, the fish and game conservation official who led the investigation. “That’s what started the entire investigation.”

When Officer Webberman responded, the suspects were long gone. But evidence at the scene showed traces of vehicles across a field of alfalfa that ended in a small puddle of blood and hair. Apparently someone shot the thorn horn in the field, drove it up and carried it undressed. The thistles shooting season was going on, but the landowner did not authorize anyone to do so.

Tire tracks in alfalfa field
The vehicles track through a field of clover that ends in a small pool of blood and hair. | Courtesy Idaho Fish and Game

After interviewing other fishermen in the area and obtaining a description of the vehicle, Webberman learned that the suspects lived in Payette County. Two days later, he was alerted to a car vandalism in Bahsimiroy Valley, in which someone threw a tooth on the hood of the car leaving blood, hair, and several scratches.

Wippermann and a team of Fish and Game officers launched an investigation that included multiple interviews with suspects in Fruitland, Payette and Parma. Through the investigation, officers learned of several Fish and Game violations other than trespassing. Officers discovered evidence showing Chasing Notch with a vehicle, shooting Notch out of their car windows with bows and at least once with a rifle, during the 2020 and 2021 shooting seasons. Additional detected violations include killing waterfowl and soaring birds during the closed season, killing protected species, and hunting During closed season or at night, hunting without tags or licenses, as well as van vandalism in Bahsimiroy Valley in Custer County.

“The investigation revealed an appalling number of fish and bird violations,” Webberman said.

While the penalties imposed are significant, prosecuting lawbreakers can be challenging. According to Wippermann, it is common in such investigations that a pattern of wildlife abuse occurs for many years, but sometimes the worst discovered violations cannot be charged due to Idaho’s short statute of limitations.

“We discovered several other violations during this investigation, but were unable to charge due to the statute of limitations on species other than large game,” Webberman said.

But the suspects won’t be chasing anywhere for some time. Idaho is a member of the Wildlife Infringement Convention, which means that if an individual’s hunting, fishing or hunting license is revoked by any of the 49 member states, all remaining states will revoke the same license or concession for the same period of time.

This case is an excellent example of the vital role of the public in helping to solve wildlife crime. Anyone with information about a crime against wildlife is encouraged to “call” the Citizens Against Poaching (CAP) Hotline at (800) 632-5999, 24 hours a day. Callers may remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward. In addition to the CAP hotline, people can contact their local fish and game office or other law enforcement authority.

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