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Hunting Accident File > VIOLATIONS > 2006

3 men deny felony counts of poaching

By GREG TUTTLE

Of The Gazette Staff

Three men accused of illegally killing big game animals in what authorities have called the "Huntley Poaching Project" were arraigned on felony charges Friday in District Court.

Brandon Mitchell Fallang, 19, Brandon Paul Hinebauch, 20, and John Paul Baeskens, 20, each pleaded not guilty to a felony charge of unlawful possession of wildlife.

The three men also pleaded not guilty to numerous misdemeanor charges involving a poaching ring that one state investigator said seems to have been driven simply by the thrill of the kill.

Eighteen people, most of them from Huntley, have been charged in the case that authorities said spanned several years of illegal hunting activities in Yellowstone, Musselshell and Park counties.

So far, 12 of the accused poachers and their family members have pleaded guilty to various misdemeanor hunting violations. They have been ordered to pay fines and restitution totaling nearly $15,000, and several have lost their hunting and fishing privileges for up to five years.

Information still reported

Jeff Scott, an investigator with the state Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said Monday that new information about the group's poaching activities continues to be reported through the state's TIPMONT hot line.

The reports are being investigated and more charges could be filed, he said.

Scott described the accused poachers as a loose-knit group of thrill-seekers who drove rural roads at night using spotlights to locate and shoot mostly whitetail and mule deer bucks. The animals' heads were removed and the carcasses left to rot.

The felony charges against Fallang, Hinebauch and Baeskens allege the trio killed nine whitetail and mule deer bucks within 45 days, including a trophy-class whitetail deer. Several elk and numerous antelope also were killed illegally by group members.

There is no evidence that any of the antlers or animal parts were sold, Scott said, although 35 big-game heads were seized as evidence during the investigation.

The investigation began last December and included dozens of interviews and the execution of three search warrants. Two Huntley families appear to be at the center of the poaching activity, Scott said, with others taking part simply for bragging rights.

Maximum of 5 years prison

The felony charge against Fallang, Hinebauch and Baeskens carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a $50,000 fine and loss of hunting privileges for life. Federal law also prohibits convicted felons from owning or possessing firearms.

Judge Ingrid Gustafson released the three men without bond after their attorney, Brad Finn, said the men live and work together in Huntley. The judge ordered the men not to talk about the case while the charges against them are pending. A trial date for each defendant will be set later.

Fallang also pleaded not guilty to six misdemeanor charges, including four counts of spotlighting and two counts of waste of game.

Baeskens was charged with nine misdemeanor charges, including three counts of unlawful possession of wildlife, one count of disposal in an unauthorized area, two counts of spotlighting, two counts of taking an antelope without a license and one count of chasing or harassing big game with a motor vehicle.

Baeskens was also charged recently in Musselshell County Justice Court with one misdemeanor count of spotlighting elk. He pleaded not guilty and posted a $200 bond.

Hinebauch was also charged with two misdemeanor counts of taking an antelope without a license.

The other defendants recently charged with misdemeanors in the case include:

William T. Harden, 16 of Worden. He pleaded guilty in Yellowstone County Justice Court to one count of spotlighting and was fined $535. His hunting and fishing privileges were revoked for two years. Harden also pleaded guilty in Musselshell County Justice Court to one count of spotlighting and one count of hunting without a license. He was fined $670 and his privileges were revoked for four years.

Raymond Kuzo, 43 of Huntley. He pleaded guilty in Park County Justice Court to one count of taking big game during a closed season and one count of using another person's hunting license. He was fined a total of $780 and ordered to pay $500 restitution. His privileges were revoked for five years.

Robin Kuzo, 39 of Huntley. She pleaded guilty in Park County to one count of loaning her hunting license to another person and was fined $240. Her privileges were revoked for two years.

Kristen Kuzo, 17 of Huntley. She pleaded guilty to one count of loaning her hunting license to another person and was fined $240.

Nathan Kuzo, 16 of Huntley. He pleaded guilty in Yellowstone County to one count of spotlighting and was fined $535. His privileges were revoked for five years. He also pleaded guilty in Park County to one count of possessing big game over the limit and one count of hunting without a license. In that case he received a total fine of $870 and his privileges were revoked for two years.

Nathan Hinebauch, 17 of Huntley. He pleaded guilty in Musselshell County to one count of spotlighting elk and was fined $335. He lost his privileges for two years.

Charles Swanson, 44 of Huntley. He pleaded guilty in Musselshell County one count of failure to tag a game animal and one count of unlawful possession of an elk. He was fined a total of $670 and his privileges were revoked for two years.

Arley Swanson, 19 of Huntley. He pleaded guilty in Yellowstone County to three counts of spotlighting, two counts of abandoning a game animal in the field, two counts of using another person's license and one count of failure to properly tag a game animal. He was fined a total of $3,645. He also pleaded guilty in Musselshell County to one count of taking an elk without a license. He was fined $535 and lost his privileges for two years.

Valerie Swanson, 46 of Huntley. She pleaded guilty in Yellowstone County to two counts of loaning her hunting license to another person and was fined a total of $470. Garrison W. Bellew, 19 of Billings. He pleaded guilty to four counts of spotlighting and two counts of abandoning a game animal in the field. He was fined a total of $3,210 and his privileges were revoked for five years.

Marshal Anquino Jr., 45 of Huntley. He pleaded guilty in Musselshell County to one count of unlawful possession of a game animal. He was fined $335 and his privileges were revoked for two years.

Kris Feragen, 19 of Worden. He pleaded guilty in Yellowstone County to one count of spotlighting, one count of abandoning a game animal in the field and one count of failure to tag a game animal. He was fined a total of $1,005 and his privileges were revoked for two years.

Mark Cody Baeskens, 21 of Billings. He pleaded not guilty in Yellowstone County to a single charge of spotlighting antelope.

Tammie Hinebauch, 40 of Huntley. She pleaded not guilty in Yellowstone County to two counts of transferring her big game license to another person.

Natasha Mack, 20 of Huntley. She pleaded not guilty in Yellowstone County to one count of hunting without a license.

Scott said he estimated that the poaching ring has illegally killed 16 whitetail bucks, 16 mule deer bucks and four antelope. The total number of elk killed and other big game losses are still under investigation, he said.

Scott encouraged anyone with information about any illegal hunting or fishing activity to call the state hot line at 1-800-TIP-MONT. Callers can remain anonymous, he said.

Contact Greg Tuttle at gtuttle@billingsgazette.com or 657-1320.

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