4 hunters sentenced in multiyear investigation
A Nucla man will serve time behind bars and three other men also have been convicted in connection with illegal hunting on the Uncompahgre Plateau that took place for more than a decade and involved at least 17 poached bull elk.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials said in a news release Monday that from about 1999 through 2011, Gerald Lee Sickels, 42, of Nucla, “operated as an illegal unlicensed outfitter and took clients on multi-day hunts for which he charged $1,000 to $3,000.”
It said the violations occurred in “prized” Game Management Unit 61 on the plateau west of Montrose. Few elk licenses are available there each season and many hunters wait 20 years or more to draw a tag, the agency said.
It said at least one mountain lion also was illegally killed, and that Sickels had his clients buy other hunting licenses to help cover up the poaching.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had conducted long-term investigations into the poaching. A federal grand jury indicted Sickels and his assistant, Jay Remy Grierson, 46, also of Nucla, in 2014 for violations of the federal Lacey Act, which bans illegal trafficking of wildlife. Wildlife officials said the two faced six counts of conspiracy and interstate sale of unlawfully taken big-game.
Sickels pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiring to violate the Lacey Act and was sentenced Nov. 7 in federal court in Denver to one year of “intermittent incarceration” and one year of probation. He will have to serve time for a year in a local detention facility on all non-work days, vacation days and holidays. He’s also prohibited from hunting or guiding while on probation, and had to give up his 1996 Toyota pickup and a Fleetwood camping trailer because he used them in committing a federal crime.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife said Grierson was sentenced in March to two years of probation and 40 hours of community serve after pleading guilty to three misdemeanor violations of the Lacey Act.
Meanwhile, Ben Williamson, 61, of Morristown, Tennessee, and his son, Brett Williamson, 26, have each paid fines of $6,500 in connection with the case, wildlife officials said.
Ben Williams illegally killed two bull elk during a 2004 trip to Game Management Unit 61. One of the animals had six points on each side of its antler rack (a 6x6 elk), and the other was a 7x8.
Wildlife officials said that in 2009, Brett Williamson killed a 6x6 bull elk, and in 2010 he killed two 6x6 bull elk — taking all three elk without a license.
The Williamsons were charged with misdemeanor violations of the Lacey Act. Besides being fined, they had to forfeit their trophy mounts. The Tennessee Department of Wildlife Resources assisted in the case.
“We take it seriously when poachers steal wildlife from all of us, especially when they are profiting from that poaching, and we will do everything we can to see that those individuals are brought to justice,” Renzo DelPiccolo, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Montrose, said in the news release. “Sometimes it takes years to investigate and settle wildlife cases, but that does not deter state and federal investigators from pursuing these crimes.”
Colorado Paraks and Wildlife said all four men could lose their hunting and fishing privileges in Colorado and 44 other states based on the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, depending on the outcome of a Parks and Wildlife hearing examiner review of each case.
The Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division prosecuted the case.