Published on Thursday, April 20, 2006.
Last modified on 4/20/2006 at 12:45 am
By GREG TUTTLE
Of The Gazette Staff
Ten people accused of illegally killing dozens of deer in Yellowstone
County in what wildlife investigators called "the Huntley Poaching
Project" were charged Wednesday in Justice Court.
Three of the accused were charged with felony crimes in the killing
of nine white-tailed and mule deer bucks in a 45-day period, including a
trophy-class white-tailed deer. Much of the illegal hunting happened at
night with a spotlight in the rural eastern and northeastern reaches of
the county, authorities said.
Jeff Scott, an investigator with the state Department of Fish,
Wildlife and Parks, described the accused poachers as a loose-knit group
of thrill-seekers who killed the wildlife without remorse, leaving
carcasses in the field to rot and collecting only the head and antlers.
Scott said investigators eventually collected 50 big-game heads
during the investigation that began in December with a tip to the state
poaching hot line. Two Huntley families appear to be at the center of
the poaching activity, Scott said, with others taking part simply for
The investigation included dozens of interviews and the execution of
three search warrants, said Scott, the lead investigator in the case.
The investigation also expanded into Park and Musselshell counties,
where several more people are scheduled to be charged this week.
"I would describe these crimes as significant," Scott said Wednesday.
"Our agency takes these wildlife crimes very seriously, and we do and
will devote whatever resources we have to bring these type of offenders
Brandon Mitchell Fallang, 19, Brandon Paul Hinebauch, 20, and John
Paul Baeskens, 20, were charged in Justice Court with a felony count of
unlawful possession of wildlife. Judge Larry Herman agreed to release
the three without bail and ordered them to appear next week for
arraignment in District Court.
The three men also were charged with numerous misdemeanor counts
related to using a spotlight to kill big animals, waste of game and
hunting without a license. Some of the charges stretch back to game
violations alleged to have occurred in 2003.
Brandon Hinebauch's mother, Tammie Hinebauch, was among the remaining
defendants charged Tuesday with misdemeanor game violations. The
40-year-old Huntley woman pleaded not guilty to two counts of
transferring her big-game license to Baeskens, once in 2003 and a second
time last year, according to court records. Herman scheduled her trial
for Sept. 21.
Natasha Mack, 20, also of Huntley, pleaded not guilty to a single
count of hunting without a license in 2005. Herman also scheduled her
trial for Sept. 21.
The remaining defendants pleaded guilty and were sentenced on
numerous misdemeanor game violations:
Garrison W. Bellew, 19, of Billings, pleaded guilty to six charges,
including using a spotlight to hunt and abandoning a big-game animal
killed in the field. He was fined $1,000 and ordered to forfeit his
hunting and fishing privileges for five years.
Arley J. Swanson, 19, of Huntley, pleaded guilty to eight charges,
including spotlighting, abandoning a killed animal and using a hunting
license issued to his mother, Valerie Swanson. He was fined $1,000 and
ordered to forfeit his hunting and fishing privileges for five years.
Valerie Swanson, 46, of Huntley, pleaded guilty to two counts of
transferring her hunting license to her son. She was fined $200.
William T. Harden, of Worden, and Nathan R. Kuzo, of Huntley, both
16, pleaded guilty to a single count of spotlighting. Both were fined
$500, and Harden lost his hunting and fishing privileges for two years;
Kuzo lost the privileges for three years.
Today, more misdemeanor hunting charges are expected to be filed in
Musselshell County Justice Court against Arley Swanson; his father,
Charles Swanson; Nathan Hinebauch; William Harden; John Baesken; and
Marshall Anquino Jr.
Scott said Nathan Kuzo and his sister, Kristen Kuzo, 17; his mother,
Robin Kuzo, 39; and his father, Ray Kuzo, 43, all of Huntley, are
scheduled to be charged Friday in Park County Justice Court with similar
misdemeanor hunting violations.
According to Scott and court records, the poaching investigation
began Dec. 12 when two state wildlife wardens found four dead buck deer
in Yellowstone County. The deer appeared to have been shot from a public
road and had their heads cut off and carcasses left behind.
Two days later, officials received a tip on the TIPMONT hot line. The
caller said Hinebauch and Baeskens had killed a dozen deer in the past
week, shooting the animals at night from the road.
The informant then met with a wildlife warden and led him to a
Huntley residence on West D Road, court records say. The warden began
surveillance there and saw two people enter a barn shortly after
midnight with what appeared to be three deer skulls and antlers.
Armed with a search warrant, wardens returned to the property and
seized nine buck deer heads, including a trophy white-tailed buck and a
trophy antelope buck.
Scott said the investigation developed from there, with interviews
leading to more suspects and evidence. He said investigators could find
no evidence that any of the poached animals had been sold.
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