The Colorado Division of Wildlife is investigating two Grand Junction men who it says were involved in poaching here in Western Colorado and Utah. Now, they face multiple charges in both states, and possibly even federal charges.
"Colorado has a tremendous wildlife resource -- maybe one of the best in America," said Randy Hampton, spokesperson for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. "We take that seriously. These are serious crimes."
Earlier this month, investigators with the Colorado Division of Wildlife caught wind of potential poaching happening in our area. Officials say the trail led them to 28-year-old Erik Ambriz and his friend, 31-year-old Michael Gordon.
According to an arrest affidavit, undercover investigators went to speak with Ambriz at a bar. While pretending to be hunters, they say he told them about a bull elk he had recently killed. After a few more conversations in the following days, investigators learned that was just the beginning. They say he told them about nearly a dozen bull elk, cow elk, buck deer, and mule deer he had also killed, and was trying to sell.
"When these kinds of incidents occur, we're gonna respond to it at quickly as we can and as strongly as we can," said Hampton.
On one occasion, investigators followed a truck Gordon was driving after midnight. They say they could see a bull elk carcass and a small deer head in the back.
"People that engage in illegal poaching activities take away from everyone," said Hampton.
When investigators approached the pair about buying some of the animals, they were able to make a deal -- two deer heads for two-hundred dollars. The report details how at one point, Gordon told investigators the bull elk he had was a trophy, and he wanted $10,000 for it.
"In some cases, we've certainly seen situations where wildlife, when it's illegally taken, can value into the tens of thousands of dollars," said Hampton.
Running background checks on both suspects, authorities say they learned neither one had proper hunting licenses in Colorado or Utah. They also discovered Ambriz had already once been cited for illegal hunting and taking of deer in 1998.
Both men were arrested and booked into the Mesa County jail on multiple charges of unlawful taking / possession of wildlife and conspiracy to sell. Gordon has bonded out.
Now the two men face a judge, and officials say the penalties could be stiff.
"As the investigation continues there may be additional charges," said Hampton. "Potentially additional charges in Utah, as well as federal charges that may become involved."
Officials say poaching is a tough crime to deal with, so they rely on the public's help to catch offenders. They says with hunting season in full swing, it's important for people to pay attention to things like people hunting at night or not wearing the required orange vests.
Officials say if you ever suspect someone of poaching, you can call the anonymous Operation Game Thief tip line at 1-800-332-4144.