A joint investigation by Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has concluded with the convictions and sentencing of eight men for their roles in illegal hunts that took place in the King Mountain area of southern Routt County in Colorado.
Ole Thorson, 35, of Prescott Mich., entered his guilty plea on March 28, bringing the two-and-a-half year joint investigation and prosecution to an end. His brother, Travis Thorson, 40, and their father, 64-year-old Jerome Thorson, all from Prescott, had previously pleaded guilty.
Wildlife officials say the multi-state investigation began when a concerned hunter called to report the three men who were believed to be hunting in Colorado without licenses.
“We are grateful to the individual who called us and reported the suspicious activity,” said Ron Velarde, regional manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in the Northwest Region. “Our officers are dedicated and work hard to bring offenders to justice, but investigations like this are often solved quicker when the public provides information.”
Several other individuals also pleaded guilty for their roles in the case. Tim Oestmann, 49 and Andrew Oestmann, 24 of Bailey, Colo. pleaded guilty to the illegal transfer of a hunting license. Jeffrey Kuhn, 63, of Prescott, Mich. pleaded guilty to illegal possession of a bull elk as did Todd Osier, 42, of Sterling, Mich. Troy Allen, 41 of Jamestown, Indiana also pleaded guilty to transfer of a license.
Wildlife investigators from Colorado and Michigan worked undercover for over a year, making numerous contacts with the Thorsons in both states.
The investigation revealed several violations in Colorado that spanned a 4-year period, including the illegal take of at least three bull elk, one black bear and a bobcat. Search warrants were served in three locations in Prescott and in the hunting camp belonging to the men, located south of Yampa, Colo. in Sept. 2011.
“Each of these crimes represents a lost opportunity for responsible hunters and a theft from all who enjoy Colorado’s wildlife,” said Bob Thompson, Lead Wildlife Investigator for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “We appreciate all of the hard work that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources has put into assisting Colorado in investigating this case as well as the commitment of the office of the district attorney in Routt County in ensuring that the men were all held accountable for their actions.”
Ole Thorson faced numerous charges, including felony willful destruction, tampering with a witness and forgery, four counts of hunting without a license and four counts of illegal possession of wildlife resulting from the illegal take of three elk and one bear. The three elk qualified for “trophy” surcharges – an additional fine for the illegal take of trophy-quality big game
He eventually pleaded guilty to unlawful transfer of a hunting license, illegal possession of a 6-point bull elk and misdemeanor theft. As a part of his plea, he agreed to pay $11,200 in fines and contribute $2,500 to Operation Game Thief – a tips hotline for wildlife violations. In addition, he received a one-year jail sentence with all but 30 days suspended pending the successful completion of five years probation. Additionally, he is prohibited from entering into the state of Colorado during the five years that he is on probation
Jerome Thorson pleaded guilty to hunting without a valid license and three counts of illegal possession of elk and was sentenced to serve two-years probation.
Travis Thorson pleaded guilty to hunting without a valid license and the illegal possession of a 6-point bull elk. In addition, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor and felony counts of menacing, stemming from an altercation with undercover wildlife officers during the investigation. According to the affidavit, Travis threatened undercover officers with a knife and an air rifle.
Travis will serve two-years probation and must pay over $14,000 in fines and costs.
In addition to the convictions, all three of the men will likely face lengthy suspensions of their hunting and fishing privileges in Colorado, their home state of Michigan as well as 36 other states who are members of the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact.
The defendants also faced separate charges in Michigan, ranging from the importation of illegally taken game from another state; nine counts of capturing whitetail deer from the wild; building and maintaining an illegal deer enclosure without a permit; illegal taking of otter, bobcat, and mink; illegal trapping; possession of an illegal silencer; and animal cruelty to horses in Ogemaw County, Michigan.
Ole Thorson entered a guilty plea to the illegal take and possession of a Michigan pine marten and paid fines and costs of $1000.
Jerome Thorson pled guilty to three counts of illegal possession of live white-tailed deer, maintaining an illegal deer enclosure without a permit, illegal possession of two unregistered handguns. Handguns registration is required in Michigan. He was sentenced to 46 days in jail, two years probation, three years hunting license revocation in Michigan and $8593 in fines, costs, and restitution.
Travis Thorson pled guilty to one count of animal cruelty and was sentenced to one-year probation, 25 hours community service at an animal shelter, and $925 fines and costs.
Todd Osier also pled guilty to one count of animal cruelty and was sentenced to one-year probation, 25 hours community service at an animal shelter, and $425 fines and costs.
“I commend the thorough work of all the law enforcement professionals involved in this investigation,” said Michigan DNR Law Enforcement Division Chief Gary Hagler. “This cooperative effort shows that concern for wildlife conservation does not stop at state borders.”
Wildlife officials remind the public to contact a local District Wildlife Manager or Operation Game Thief toll-free at 877-COLO-OGT (877-265-6648). Callers contacting the tip line remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward if the information leads to a citation.
Image courtesy Colorado Parks and Wildlife