Ever watch a television police drama and see the criminal do something that makes you think, “Duh, that wasn’t too smart. You’ll probably get caught for that mistake.”
Yep, everyone makes mistakes. Ultimately, the stupid mistakes eventually catch up with you, as in the case of some poachers investigated and convicted for multiple violations — thanks to a pair of caps left at a scene, the logo on those caps and photos on a website.
After a Colorado Parks and Wildlife investigation spanning several states and two hunting seasons, three California men have pleaded guilty to numerous wildlife violations in Colorado and New Mexico, dating back to 2011 through 2013.
Upon being confronted with extensive evidence of their crimes, the three men admitted to their illegal activities and accepted a plea bargain in Rio Blanco County Court in late February.
Ringleader Anthony Bauer, 35, of Palm Desert, California, was convicted of willful destruction of big game wildlife — a felony in Colorado, four counts of hunting without a proper and valid deer license and illegal take of a mule deer.
Bauer was ordered to pay $5,754 in fines, make a $10,000 donation to the Meeker Sportsman’s Club and forfeit all evidence seized, including hunting gear and personal computers. Bauer also pleaded guilty for the illegal take of a bull elk in New Mexico. As part of his plea, Bauer was ordered to return the illegally taken elk mount, a mule deer mount and a Barbary sheep mount to New Mexico.
Bauer is the owner of Live2Die, an outdoor-themed hat and clothing company based in California. The company’s website is where investigators discovered the incriminating photos, eventually removed from the site under the terms of the plea bargain.
Throughout their crime spree, the men hunted on private property without permission, illegally killed an elk, nine mule deer, one turkey and a blue grouse. In several instances, the poachers only removed the head, cape and antlers from their illegal kills, or abandoned the entire animal leaving the meat to waste, which could have brought felony charges and a prison sentence.
During the investigation, wildlife officials gathered a variety of evidence including taxidermy mounts from their homes and numerous photos of the men posing with the illegally taken wildlife.
“These individuals showed complete disregard for the wildlife laws of several states in a brazen and arrogant manner,” said Ron Velarde, Northwest Regional Manager of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “Citizens have every reason to be outraged by their destructive behavior and we, along with the other agencies we worked with on this case, are satisfied to see that these individuals have been brought to justice.”
It was the logos on caps produced by Bauer’s company that sparked the investigation.
“Ironically, it was the discovery of two hats emblazoned with the company’s logo found hidden in some brush on private property near two poached deer that led us to these individuals,” said Area Wildlife Manager Bill de Vergie of Meeker. “The landowner found the hats and let District Wildlife Manager Jon Wangnild know right away. It once again shows how important the public’s help can be in bringing violators to justice.”
De Vergie praised the work of all of the officers and investigators involved in the case, including wildlife officers from New Mexico and California and a forensics laboratory in Wyoming. He noted the outstanding work of DWM Wangnild of Meeker who initiated the two-year investigation after receiving a tip from a local outfitter.
Wangnild passed away after being injured in a horseback riding accident in June, 2013, eight months before the case was resolved in court.
“Jon was very well respected by his fellow officers because of his dedication and tenacity in bringing violators to justice,” added de Vergie. “His diligence and hard work on this case, both here and in California, is a testament to his legacy.”
Wangnild and an investigator traveled out-of-state to assist California State Fish and Game officers search the suspects’ residences and a local taxidermist shop where a substantial amount of evidence was seized.
Also pleading guilty in the case was Frank D’Anna, 29, of San Diego and Hank Myll, 33, of Palm Desert. Myll pleaded guilty to hunting mule deer without a proper and valid license and illegal take of a mule deer. D’Anna agreed to pay a citation for hunting blue grouse without a license, hunting mule deer without a license, illegal take of a blue grouse, illegal take of a mule deer and hunting on private property without permission.
Several other men allegedly involved in illegal hunting with Bauer, D’Anna and Myll and are facing possible charges in New Mexico, pending further investigation
On the Live2Die website, Bauer states that he “… built his brand on the principles of living life to the fullest. With a goal to get more kids off of the video games, and get them outdoors.”
“One of the most important aspects of enjoying the outdoors is being responsible and ethical around wildlife,” de Vergie said. “Unfortunately, considering the extent of Mr. Bauer and his companion’s illegal activity, this was the complete opposite of what we are trying to teach our younger generations.”
The three men now must meet with a CPW Hearings Commissioner where they face the possibility of permanently losing their hunting and fishing privileges in Colorado and 41 other Interstate Wildlife Violator compact states, including New Mexico and California.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife asks the public to report possible illegal wildlife activity to their nearest CPW office or Colorado State Patrol. To remain anonymous, call Operation Game Thief at 877-265-6648. Rewards may be available if the report leads to a citation.
For more information about Operation Game Thief, visit this site.