Poachers Post Photos of Dead Animals to Facebook; Cops Friend Them
Thanks to an ill-conceived Facebook post, Nevada game wardens tracked down three men involved in illegally killing dozens of animals over the past two years.
Nevada Chief Game Warden Tyler Turnipseed said in a statement on Monday that his team had been following one lead after another in “what seemed to be a bottomless supply of wildlife crime."
As the dead deer, birds, and felonies piled up, the poaching continued until one fateful day in June 2013, when wildlife officials saw a post on Facebook showing three men with two dead deer near Hiko, Nevada.
A few days earlier, wardens had received a report of two deer illegally killed on a farm near the same spot. Game warden Cameron Waithman and fellow investigators put two and two together and identified Jose Manuel Ortega-Torres, 30, of Lincoln County as one of the people in the photo.
"We figured out basically where he lived and believed we had enough for a search warrant right there," Waithman told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "That's when I started looking at his Facebook page."
Nevada officials could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
During the search of Ortega-Torres’ house in Hiko, wardens found deer meat, dead migratory birds, butchering tools, weapons, and ammunition on the property.
On Ortega-Torres’ Facebook page, Waithman found photos of three other suspects illegally killing animals. That led wardens to Las Vegas, where Adrian Acevedo-Hernandez was living.
A search of the Las Vegas residence resulted in more illegal deer meat, guns, and ammunition and the arrests of Acevedo-Hernandez, Jose Luis Montufar-Canales, and J. Nemias Reyes Marin—all linked to the illegal poaching activity through social media, according to the Nevada Department of Wildlife.
Investigators were able to directly link the poaching ring to six mule deer killings, multiple migratory songbird deaths, and game bird killings, but the total tally may never be known.
Officials called the ring’s indiscriminate hunting methods “thrill kills.”
“These are people who, for whatever reason, don’t want to shoot at paper targets anymore and go out and kill stuff for fun,” Waithman told Reuters.
Ortega-Torres was subsequently convicted of unlawful possession of a mule deer. Montufar-Canales was convicted of using false information to obtain a hunting license; he was ordered to pay $690 and received a 10-day suspended jail sentence. Acevedo-Hernandez was convicted in Lincoln County for unlawful possession of two mule deer. He was ordered to pay $5,000 and forfeit six firearms.
Acevedo-Hernandez was also convicted in Elko County for unlawful possession of a mule deer and ordered to pay a civil penalty of $250, along with forfeiting his pickup truck and the rifle used to commit the crime. Marin pleaded guilty to the unlawful possession of a mule deer. He is scheduled for sentencing in December.
Additionally, a federal grand jury in July indicted all of the suspects except Ortega-Torres for Migratory Bird Treaty Act and federal weapons violations. The three suspects remain in custody, awaiting trial.