Thanks to an anonymous tip phoned into the Operation Game Thief Hotline last January, three Colorado poachers have pleaded guilty to illegally killing at least eight mule deer as well as other crimes. The guilty trio consists of a 17-year-old juvenile, his father John Pinnt and 23-year-old Levi Baysinger. According to Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW), the tipster told investigators that a dead deer was in the back of the 17-year-old’s truck even though deer season was closed. And, as the investigation continued, CPW discovered that all of them had participated in other criminal activity, including “poaching multiple deer, attempting to destroy evidence and a burglary case” currently under investigation by the Moffat County Sherriff’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, who served as 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.”
While the juvenile initially denied poaching the deer, investigators discovered that the poached deer that had been spotted in the truck had been hidden in a rented storage shed; however, it “disappeared” before officers could recover the carcass. Further, Pinnt was seen by officers trying to then destroy evidence of deer DNA in the rented shed. Yet, there was still enough proof to link Pinnt and the others to the crime.
“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.”
The case took a rather troubling twist when CPW helped the Moffat County Sherriff’s Office with a burglary that happened on property Baysinger and the juvenile “had access to, at approximately the same time the juvenile poached the deer,” according to the report. When they investigated the property they found eight decaying buck mule deer carcasses—some without antlers, some without heads, others completely left to rot.
“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.”
District Wildlife Officer Evan Jones and Deputy Ryan Hampton of the Moffatt County Sherriff’s Office assisted with the case. Deputy District Attorney Brittany Schneider assisted in having the trio charged with the appropriate crimes.
According to CPW, the juvenile pleaded guilty to aggravated illegal take/possession of three or more big game animals and tampering with evidence, which is a class-six felony. He is required to serve an 18-month deferred adjudication, donate $2,000 to Operation Game Thief, complete 40 hours of community service and complete an 18-month supervised probation period.
Baysinger pleaded guilty to the willful destruction of a big game animal, which is a class-five felony. He is required to serve an 18-month deferred judgment and sentence. He has also pleaded guilty to criminal mischief in relation to the Moffat County burglary. For both charges, he must pay $2,393 in fines, donate $2,000 to Operation Game Thief, complete 40 hours of community service and complete an 18-month supervised probation period. He also had to forfeit his .22 pistol.
Pinnt pleaded guilty to obstructing law enforcement by destroy evidence and must pay $1,418.50 in fines and complete an 18-month supervised probation period. He is currently serving a five-year suspension of his hunting and fishing privileges in Colorado and the other 47 states that honor the Wildlife Violator Compact.
Baysinger and the juvenile also face a lifetime suspension of their hunting and fishing privileges following the review of their case by a CPW hearings examiner.
“Poaching wildlife is one of the most destructive crimes all societies face,” said Jones. “But no matter how hard these criminals try to evade law enforcement, we will do all we can to bring them to justice.”