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Wisconsin man accused of multiple hunting violations

Local News

Updated Saturday, July 15, 2006 7:32 PM MDT

Katharhynn Heidelberg

Daily Press News Editor

MONTROSE — Years after he allegedly committed wildlife violations as part of a poaching ring, Wisconsin resident Fred Brandon Sales is answering criminal charges in the local courts.

Sales, 24, was charged this year with 12 counts, including three felony allegations of willful destruction of wildlife. He was also charged with three counts each of illegal possession of wildlife; hunting without a license and wildlife offenses (failure to dress edible game meat), all misdemeanors.

Sales’ attorney could not be reached for comment on the allegations. He is next due in court Aug. 28.

Division of Wildlife investigators said in an affidavit that while on the Uncompahgre Plateau in 2001, Sales killed a 5 x 6 bull elk, took its head as a trophy and left the carcass to rot, in violation of state law. He is also accused of complicity in the killing and similar disposal of a 6 x 6 bull elk that was reportedly taken down by George Waters.

DOW Investigator Eric Schaller said Saturday Waters would conceal his ill-gotten trophies for a year before retrieving them and passing them off as winter-kill animals that had died naturally. He apparently sold his poached trophies, which helped lead investigators to him. Waters is now one of several men serving federal prison time as the result of his poaching activities in Colorado and Iowa.

When the DOW and other agencies began investigating Waters in 2002, Sales’ name surfaced, as did that of Waters’ nephew, Brent. The DOW alleged none of the three men had a valid elk-hunting license in Colorado.

Wildlife agents spoke to Brent Waters in 2003 and alleged he admitted to having killed a 6 x 6 bull elk in Colorado in Sept. 2001. Brent Waters is said to have told investigators that Sales killed a 5 x 5 bull elk on the same hunt, and that all three of them threw most of the meat away.

George Waters reportedly hung his trophy bull’s head in a tree, while Brent Waters and Sales allegedly hid the antlers from their bulls in some brush. Brent Waters reportedly told investigators he and Sales came back in 2002 to collect the antlers. However, they were unable to find the rack from the elk killed by George Waters.

Investigators said that in subsequent interviews, Sales admitted to killing a bull, throwing away the antlers and assisting Brent Waters in hiding his bull. They allegedly helped George Waters wrap the head and antlers of his bull with paper towels and duct tape, which they spray painted over before hanging in a tree.

In another interview, Sales allegedly admitted shooting an antelope in Weld County, leaving behind most of the meat and hiding the head in a dilapidated barn.

Brent Waters denied killing any antelope in Colorado, though according to the affidavit, he fingered Sales as having done so. He also said that though he’d hunted elk in Colorado in 2005, he hadn’t killed anything.

Brent Waters has since been prosecuted under the federal Lacy Act, which prohibits the transport of unlawfully taken or unlawfully possessed wildlife across state lines.

“The decision was made to prosecute Brent Waters federally and Brandon Sales at the state level,” Schaller said.

Though it has been close to five years since the alleged violations were committed, the statute of limitations is not applicable in Sales’ case, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Myrl Serra, who says the limitation “tolls,” or stops when a suspect leaves the state.

“It’s like it happened yesterday,” he said. “The statute of limitations isn’t an issue.”

Sales’ arrest affidavit alleges Sales was only present in Colorado for hunts and retrieval trips, but lived in Wisconsin and held both driver’s license and vehicle registrations there.

Serra said Sales also faces destruction of wildlife charges in Weld County, over the alleged antelope kill. Attempts were being made to resolve both the Montrose and the Weld County cases together.

If Sales is convicted, he could face from one to three years on each felony count, plus fines. Under the 1998 Sampson Act — named for a trophy bull elk killed illegally in Rocky Mountain National Park — Sales could also be fined an additional $10,000 for each offense found to be in violation of the act.

Tony Gurzick, DOW assistant regional manager, said it’s possible Sales could lose his license if he is convicted of the offenses. Conviction counts against hunting license points and hunters who accumulate 20 or more violation points in a five-year period can lose hunting and fishing privileges for up to five years. Anyone convicted of illegal possession or willful destruction of wildlife can lose his or her license for anywhere from one year to life.

The penalties are about ethics and fairness, Gurzick said.

“One of the main purposes of hunting is to provide food. We don’t want to promote people killing animals and not taking care of the meat for human consumption. It’s an ethical issue of using the game in a responsible manner.”

Gurzick also said wildlife offenses impact law-abiding hunters. “It takes opportunities away from them when people are taking animals illegally. It also gives hunting in general a bad reputation that’s not deserved.”

He urged the public to report wildlife offenses to the Operation Game Thief hotline, toll-free, at (877) 265-6648. Reports can be made anonymously.

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