Hunting Accident File > VIOLATIONS > 2006

10 accused of hunting crimes, 4 plead guilty

Published on Thursday, April 20, 2006.
Last modified on 4/20/2006 at 12:45 am

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 bragging rights.

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 to justice."

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.

Copyright The Billings Gazette, a division of Lee Enterprises.

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