What started as a simple phone call to Idaho Fish and Game about trespassing in the Pahsimeroi Valley during the 2021 pronghorn archery season, led to an extensive investigation with over 50 wildlife charges filed against five southwest Idaho men.
Charges were filed in six Idaho counties where the crimes occurred and included trespassing, malicious injury to property, unlawfully taken bass, spearfishing violations, hunting turkeys with electronic calls, as well as multiple deer and pronghorn hunting violations. Many additional charges could not be filed because of the one-year statute of limitation on species other than big game.
Penalties were recently issued in multiple counties, including August 2022 in Custer County, to the five wildlife violators including:
Todd A. Phillips, of Fruitland, was found guilty of five charges, while seven additional charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement. He received $6,900 in fines, 12 years of probation, 12-year hunting license revocation with seven years suspended unless he violates his probation, 100 hours of community service in lieu of jail, and forfeiture of his 2020 and 2021 pronghorn. He also plead guilty to a turkey hunting violation in Payette County and received a $350 fine and paid a $1,000 bond forfeiture for deer hunting violations in Adams County. As part of his sentencing and probation in Payette County, he cannot be in possession of any weapon, including crossbow, air guns, bows, or firearms, where hunting activities can or are taking place.
Darin Phillips, of Fruitland, was found guilty of five charges, while two additional charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement. He received $6,300 in fines, 10 years of probation, 10-year hunting license revocation with five years suspended unless he violates his probation, and 100 hours of community service in lieu of jail.
Braeden T. Phillips, of Payette, was found guilty of three charges. He received $3,970 in fines, six years of probation, nine-year hunting license revocation with six years suspended unless he violates his probation, and 60 hours of community service in lieu of jail. In addition, his 2021 pronghorn was forfeited, and he paid a $400 bond forfeiture in Kootenai County for two spearfishing violations.
Jacob Phillips, of Fruitland, was found guilty of two charges, while four other charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement. He received $990 in fines, four years of probation, five-year hunting license revocation, and 50 hours of community service in lieu of jail. Since Jacob was under 21 at the time, his hunting privileges can be reinstated after one year if he completes a hunter education course. Jacob also pled guilty to one charge in Payette County and received a $400 fine.
Jeff Mosso, of Parma, was found guilty of one charge, while three other charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement. He received $1,665 in fines, two years of probation, three-year license suspension with two years suspended unless he violates probation, and 20 hours of community service in lieu of jail.
Whether big or small, all wildlife crimes are worth reporting.
“That initial phone call from the public was crucial,” said Chad Wippermann, Fish and Game conservation officer who led the investigation. “It’s what started the entire investigation.”
When officer Wippermann responded, the suspects were long gone. But evidence at the scene showed vehicle tracks through an alfalfa field which ended at a small pool of blood and hair. It appeared that someone had shot a pronghorn in the field, drove to and loaded it without field dressing it. Pronghorn archery season was in progress, but the landowner had not given anyone permission.
After interviewing other hunters in the area and obtaining a vehicle description, Wippermann learned the suspects lived in Payette County. Two days later, he was alerted to a vehicle vandalism in the Pahsimeroi Valley, where someone had thrown a pronghorn on to the vehicle’s hood leaving blood, hair, and several dents.
Wippermann and a team of Fish and Game officers launched an investigation that involved multiple interviews of the suspects in Fruitland, Payette, and Parma. Through the investigation, officers learned of numerous other Fish and Game violations beyond the trespassing. Officers discovered evidence showing pronghorn being chased with a vehicle, and pronghorn being shot at from their vehicle windows with crossbows and at least once with a rifle, during the 2020 and 2021 archery seasons. Additional violations detected include killing waterfowl and upland game birds during closed season, killing protected species, hunting during closed season or at night, hunting without tags or licenses, as well as vandalizing the vehicle in the Pahsimeroi Valley of Custer County.
“The investigation revealed a shocking number of fish and game violations,” said Wippermann.
While the penalties handed down are significant, prosecuting law violators can be a challenge. According to Wippermann, it is common in investigations such as this, that a pattern of wildlife violations occurs for many years, but sometimes the worst violations detected cannot be charged because of Idaho’s short statute of limitations law.
“We discovered numerous other violations during this investigation but couldn’t charge due to the statute of limitations on species other than big game,” Wippermann said.
But the suspects won’t be hunting anywhere from quite some time. Idaho is a member of the Wildlife Violator Compact, which means that if an individual’s hunting, fishing or trapping license is revoked by any of the 49 member states, all the remaining states will revoke the same license or privilege for the same time period.
This case is an excellent example of how the public is vital in helping solve wildlife crimes. Anyone with information about a wildlife crime is encouraged to “Make the Call” to the Citizens Against Poaching (CAP) hotline at 1-800-632-5999, 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 any law enforcement authority.