CHALIS, Idaho – What started as a simple phone call to Idaho Fish and Game about trespassing in the Bahsimero Valley during the 2021 fissure shooting season led to an intense investigation with more than 50 charges against wildlife against five men from southwestern Idaho.
According to Idaho Fish & Game, the group was sentenced to a $21,975 fine and 15 years in revocation of the license. The sentence also came with 34 years of probation, 330 hours of community service in lieu of imprisonment, four (4) probing forfeitures, and an additional 24 years in case of a probation violation.
The charges, which included trespassing, malicious injury to property, illegal hunting, spearfishing violations, and turkey hunting with electronic calls, as well as multiple deer and fork-hunting violations, were filed in six Idaho counties where the crimes occurred. The IDFG says that many additional charges cannot be filed due to the one-year statute of limitations on species other than large game.
“That initial phone call from the audience was very important,” said Chad Webberman, the fish and game protection official who led the investigation. “That’s what started the entire investigation.”
When Officer Webberman responded to the initial trespassing call, the suspects had long since disappeared. But evidence at the scene showed traces of vehicles across a field of alfalfa that ended in a small puddle of blood and hair. Webberman said it appeared that someone had shot a thorn horn in the field, drove to the site and carried the animal undressed into the field.
At that time, the thistles shooting season was in progress, but the landowner did not authorize anyone to do so.
After interviewing other fishermen in the area, Webberman was able to obtain a description of the vehicle and learned that the potential suspects lived in Payette County.
Two days later, Weberman learned of a vehicle vandalism in Bahsimiroy Valley, in which someone reportedly threw a tooth onto the hood of the vehicle leaving blood, hair, and numerous scratches.
Wippermann and a team of Fish and Game officers launched an investigation that included multiple interviews with suspects in Fruitland, Payette and Parma. Through the investigation, officers learned of several Fish and Game violations other than trespassing.
According to the IDF, officers discovered evidence showing the fork being chased by a vehicle, shooting the fork out of their car windows using bows and at least once with a rifle, during the 2020 and 2021 shooting seasons. Additional detected violations include the killing of waterfowl and soaring birds during the closed season, Killing protected species, hunting during closed season or at night, hunting without tags or licenses, as well as vandalizing the Bahsimiru Valley in Custer County.
“The investigation revealed a shocking number of fish and animal violations,” Webberman said.
As a result of the investigation, penalties have been issued in several counties, including the August 2022 in Custer County, for the five wildlife violators including:
Todd A. Phillips – Fruitland, ID: Todd A. was found. Phillips pleaded guilty to five counts, while seven additional counts were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.
He received $6,900 in fines, 12 years of probation, 100 hours of community service in lieu of imprisonment, revocation of a 12-year fishing license with a seven-year suspension unless he violated his probation, and 2020 and 2021 forfeitures.
He also pleaded guilty to a Payette County turkey poaching violation and received a $350 fine and a $1,000 forfeiture of bond payment for deer hunting violations in Adams County. As part of Payette County’s judgment and probation, he may not be in possession of any weapon, including crossbow, air rifles, crossbows, or firearms, in which hunting activities may or may be conducted.
Darren Phillips – Frutland, ID: Darren Phillips was found guilty of five counts, while two additional charges were dismissed as part of the plea agreement.
He received $6,300 in fines, 10 years of probation, 100 hours of community service in lieu of imprisonment, and the revocation of a 10-year hunting license with a five-year suspension unless he violated his probation.
Braeden T. Phillips, Payette, ID: Braeden T. Phillips was convicted of three counts.
He received $3,970 in fines, six years of probation, 60 hours of community service in lieu of imprisonment, and the revocation of a nine-year hunting license with a six-year suspension unless he violated his probation. In addition, his 2021 spinal horn was confiscated, and a $400 bond was paid in Kootenay County for two spearfishing breaches.
Jacob Phillips, Frutland, ID: Jacob Phillips was convicted on two counts, while four other charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement.
He received a $990 fine, four years of probation, 50 hours of community service in lieu of imprisonment, and the revocation of a five-year hunting license. Since Jacob was under 21 at the time, his fishing privileges can be reinstated after one year if he completes a fishing education course.
Jacob also pleaded guilty to one count in Payette County and received a $400 fine.
Jeff Musso, Parma, ID: Jeff Musso was convicted on one count, while three other charges were dropped as part of a plea agreement.
He received $1,665 in fines, two years of probation, a three-year license suspension suspended for two years unless he violated probation, and 20 hours of community service in lieu of imprisonment.