Elk NetworkPlea Agreement Reached in Wyoming Poaching Cases

General , Poaching | December 21, 2023

Below is a news release from the Wyoming Game & Fish Department. For 2023-2025, Fiocchi partnered with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to increase the visibility of poaching incidents in an effort to reduce poaching.

Plea agreements between Florida resident Jeb Rou and county attorneys in Campbell and Johnson counties were approved in November 2023, ending a multi-year investigation by Wyoming Game and Fish Department law enforcement officers that resulted in more than $137,000 in fines and restitution among three individuals.

On Dec. 5, 2019, North Gillette Game Warden Kristen Strom responded to a poaching call from an anonymous member of the public. The reporting party informed a local landowner that a deer had been shot and he saw three individuals hiding the deer on the landowner’s property. Later that night, with help from the landowner, Strom caught Gillette resident Eric Sorensen and Georgia resident Justin Price attempting to retrieve the illegally killed deer. Rou fled the scene and was not apprehended.

As the investigation began, multiple wildlife violations for all three suspects were discovered dating to December 2018, including eight buck mule deer and one bull elk taken out of season or wantonly destroyed.

Evidence showed the majority of violations occurred at night with Rou, Price and Sorensen using thermal imaging rifle scopes and spotlights to find and poach mule deer and elk in Campbell and Johnson Counties. However, in one daytime poaching instance, the trio shot and killed a buck mule deer in a Gillette subdivision, shooting long distance over a church playground, two roads and two homes. The animal was left to waste.

The investigation also uncovered wildlife violations in six other states, some of which were past those states’ statute of limitations and so could not be charged.

“There is not a statute of limitations for wildlife crime committed in Wyoming, so we were able to charge all three suspects with several of their poaching crimes even though some occurred several years ago,” said Strom.

As violations were discovered during the investigation, Price and Sorensen made multiple court appearances in 2020 and 2021 in Campbell County.

Sorensen received $15,640 in fines and had his hunting, fishing and trapping privileges suspended for 20 years. He also served 30 days in jail.

Price received $40,165 in fines and had his hunting, fishing and trapping privileges suspended for 23 years. He also served 30 days in jail.

Although Rou had returned to Florida in December 2019, Strom and Wyoming Game and Fish Department investigators worked with Campbell County prosecutors to issue nationwide extraditable warrants for Rou. After three years, Rou was apprehended in January 2023 following a high-speed vehicle pursuit with officers in Florida. He was arrested and extradited back to Wyoming by the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office on wildlife warrants.

“Wyoming has extradited suspects from surrounding states for wildlife crimes before, but never from across the country,” said Strom. “This case really sets a precedent. If you poach in Wyoming, you will be held responsible for those crimes, regardless of where you live.”

In November 2023, Rou agreed to plea agreements for taking big game out of season and wanton destruction of big game in Campbell and Johnson counties. He received a total of $31,505.80 in fines and his hunting, fishing and trapping privileges were suspended for 27 years. He also recently completed a 60-day jail sentence in the Campbell County Detention Center.

Rou, Price and Sorensen will also jointly pay $50,000 in restitution for the wildlife they killed.

“This case came to a successful conclusion thanks to help from officers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks,” said Strom. “We also appreciate the support of Campbell and Johnson County prosecutors, and particularly the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office, which worked hard to extradite Rou back to Wyoming to face these wildlife charges. But most importantly, we are thankful for the anonymous member of the public who reported the initial violation, which allowed us to begin this investigation.”

As required by state statute, the fines in these cases will be distributed to the public-school fund in the counties where the violations occurred.

As required by state statute, restitution in these cases will be deposited into a Wyoming Game and Fish Department account that is used to purchase access easements to public and private land.

Wyoming and 48 other states participate in the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact. If a person loses hunting or fishing privileges in one state, the revocation is also in effect in all other partner states.

Tips and information about suspected wildlife violations can be provided online through the Wyoming Game and Fish website at wgfd.wyo.gov or by calling 1-877-WGFD-TIP (1-877-943-3847).

(Photo credit: Wyoming Game & Fish Department)