CRAIG, Colo. – For their participation in the illegal killing of multiple deer, three poachers from Craig are paying a price for the crimes, and for several other crimes related to the killing of the animals.
Wildlife officials began looking into this case in January of 2018 after receiving a tip from someone that had seen a dead deer in the back of a vehicle driven by a 17-year-old juvenile after deer hunting seasons had closed. As the investigation proceeded, CPW officers learned two other men were involved with the juvenile in various criminal activities, including poaching multiple deer, attempting to destroy evidence and a burglary case investigated by the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office.
“It appears they had killed quite a few deer over a long period of time, and if not for the tip it’s likely they would have continued to do so,” said District Wildlife Officer Johnathan Lambert of Craig, the lead investigator in the case. “Once again, this shows how critical the public’s help is when it comes to cases like this. We are always grateful when someone steps up and helps us out.”
In agreement with the 14th Judicial District Attorney’s Office in early October, the juvenile pleaded guilty to aggravated illegal take/possession of three or more big game animals and tampering with evidence, a class-six felony. He must serve an 18-month deferred adjudication, make a $2,000 donation to Operation Game Thief, complete 40 hours of community service and subject to the terms of his 18-month supervised probation period.
One of his accomplices, Levi Baysinger, 23, pleaded guilty in August to willful destruction of a big game animal, a class-five felony. He earned an 18-month deferred judgment and sentence for that crime. While working with CPW on poaching case, the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office tied Baysinger to a cold-case burglary they had been investigating. For that offense, Baysinger pleaded guilty to criminal mischief. In total, Baysinger must pay $2,393 in fines and make a $2,000 donation to Operation Game Thief, CPW’s wildlife violator tip line. He must complete 40 hours of community service and is subject to the terms of his 18-month supervised probation period. Baysinger also forfeited a .22 pistol he used to kill the deer.
The third accomplice, John Pinnt, 42, pleaded guilty in July of 2018 to obstructing law enforcement by destroying evidence. He must pay $1,418.50 in fines and subject to the terms of his 18-month supervised probation period. In addition, Pinnt is currently serving a five-year suspension of his hunting and fishing privileges in Colorado and 47 other Wildlife Violator Compact States.
Baysinger and the juvenile are facing the possible lifetime suspension of their hunting and fishing privileges, pending a review of their case by a CPW hearings examiner.
CPW investigators say when they asked the juvenile and his father about the deer in the truck, the juvenile denied any involvement. The officers then learned the suspect hid the poached deer in a locked storage shed rented by Pinnt. The deer later disappeared before officers could recover it.
While investigating the case, officers witnessed Pinnt attempt to destroy evidence of deer DNA in the shed; however, officers recovered enough evidence from other items in the shed to make a connection.
“That was all we needed to confirm that the dead deer in the back of his truck was the same deer that had been stored in the shed,” said Lambert. “And that’s how we tied these two suspects to the same crime, and the other crimes as well.”
As the investigation revealed additional information, wildlife officers assisted the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office with a cold-case burglary that occurred on property Baysinger and the juvenile had access to, at approximately the same time the juvenile poached the deer. On that property, officers recovered the decaying carcasses of eight additional buck mule deer, some with antlers removed, some with heads removed and meat abandoned, others abandoned entirely intact.
“It was a disturbing find,” said Lambert. “One of the buck deer heads found with antlers still attached contained eight .22 caliber bullets lodged inside the skull. With the assistance of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, we matched the bullets to the pistol owned by Levi.”
Lambert noted the efforts of fellow wildlife officer Evan Jones of Craig and Deputy Ryan Hampton of the Moffat County Sheriff’s Office who assisted throughout the case and the many other Colorado wildlife officers that contributed considerable time and effort during the investigation.
“Poaching wildlife is one of the most destructive crimes all societies face,” said District Wildlife Officer Evan Jones. “But no matter how hard these criminals try to evade law enforcement, we will do all we can to bring them to justice.”
Lambert and Jones thanked Deputy District Attorney Brittany Schneider for her work on the case.
To provide information about a wildlife violation anonymously, the public can contact Operation Game Thief at 877-265-6648. Rewards are available if the information leads to an arrest or citation.