Convicted poacher hunted in Summit years ago
SUMMIT COUNTY – A man who pleaded guilty this week to poaching white-tailed deer, elk and mule deer in Colorado and Iowa used to hunt in Summit County years ago.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) spokesman Roger Gephart said the agency does not know if George Waters hunted illegally in Summit County. Agency officials said he never obtained a hunting license for any of his trips to Colorado, but instead used outdated and used licenses and tags to disguise the trophies.
Gephart said it is possible Waters killed animals in Summit County, but so much time has passed – an estimated 20 years – it would be difficult to obtain any proof.
Waters admitted that between 1992 and 2002, he killed 24 white-tailed deer on the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant near Middletown and various other locations in the Midwestern state. He also admitted to killing eight elk and six mule deer west of Montrose and transporting their racks and heads to Iowa for sale.
The 45 trophy animals Waters admitted killing were valued at $270,000.
According to FWS officials, the West Branch, Iowa, man would kill the animals, retrieve the antlers and heads and leave the rest of the animal carcasses to rot.
He often sold the prized racks, many of which were scored and registered by the Boone and Crockett Club, a Montana-based club that maintains a registry of trophy animals. Such scores increase the value of a set of antlers.
In transporting the illegally acquired game from Colorado to Iowa, Waters violated – and pleaded guilty to – the Lacey Act, a federal wildlife protection law. He pleaded guilty to two felony violations of that act Tuesday. The maximum penalty is up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each offense. Waters was also cited for possessing a machine gun. The maximum sentence for that felony is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Lang, who prosecuted the case in the U.S. District Court in Rock Island, Ill., said a plea agreement requires Waters to serve five years in prison without parole, pay a $10,000 fine and $30,000 in restitution to be divided between Iowa and Colorado.
Waters will be sentenced in December.
He also will forfeit numerous animal trophy mounts, skulls and nine firearms, including a 9 mm automatic machine gun.
Poaching is big business in Colorado, according to the Operation Game Thief (OGT) Web site.
Studies indicate poachers might kill almost as many animals and fish as legitimate hunters and fisherman take during legal seasons. They don’t limit their activities to game animals, but have been caught with endangered species as well.
Poachers usually kill for the thrill of killing, to retaliate against wildlife laws or for profit, the OGT site reads.
“They kill wildlife any way, time and place they can,” it reads. “Poaching rings can be well organized and extremely profitable.”
Since Colorado began its OGT chapter in 1981, OGT officials have taken more than 2,400 reports from citizens.
The reports have resulted in more than 700 convictions, the seizure of more than 1,300 animals and netted more than $600,000 in fines. In the same period, OGT has awarded citizens more than $130,000 for their tips.
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 228, or email@example.com.
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