Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Fines, restitution exceed $300,000 for Wyoming poachers

Three men – from Alabama, Oklahoma, and South Dakota – were fined, ordered to pay restitution, given jail time, and more in a massive Wyoming bust. (Photo courtesy of Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

Cheyenne, Wyo. — Three men charged with more than 100 wildlife violations have been convicted on numerous charges in what is one of the largest poaching cases in Wyoming history.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department recently issued a press release detailing the investigation, which stems back to the fall of 2015. According to the release, Russell Vick, of Alabama, Robert Underwood, of Oklahoma, and David Underwood, of South Dakota, were convicted of multiple wildlife offenses, fined a total of $171,230, and ordered to pay $131,550 in restitution.

Punishments also included prison time and lifetime hunting and fishing bans. The case involved charges of poaching multiple wildlife species, including bighorn sheep, elk, moose, mule deer, and antelope.

The charges were prosecuted across four Wyoming counties. The seven-year, multi-agency investigation also spanned four states and involved thousands of hours
of investigations, officials say.

“Investigating and successfully prosecuting a case of this size and scope required
years of effort by many individuals and agencies,” said Rick King,
Wyoming Game and Fish Department chief game warden. “Dozens of people
worked hard to make sure that even though some of these violations
occurred a decade or more ago, they would not go unpunished.”

Building the case began in October of 2015 when a Gillette, Wyo., warden
received a request from a hunter for an interstate game tag to be used
with a deer head being shipped to Vick for taxidermy work at an Alabama
address. A database search showed Vick having a Wyoming address, and
that he had purchased resident licenses in Wyoming for multiple years.

As the investigation of Vick widened to include cellular and social media
sources, evidence began to implicate his acquaintances, Oklahoman Robert
Underwood, and Robert’s son, David Underwood. According to the release,
the Underwoods are former residents of Gillette, Wyo.

Federal search warrants were simultaneously executed at the residences of both
Vick and David Underwood, of Edgemont, S.D., in May of 2017, while
Robert Underwood was interviewed at his home in Jones, Okla.

Digital evidence and multiple elk, deer, pronghorn, and a bighorn sheep ram
mounts were seized from the Vick and Underwood residences.

According to the department release, a second federal search warrant was
conducted in November 2017 after officers learned that Vick had removed
more than a dozen wildlife mounts from his residence. They later were found in a trailer more than 60 miles from his residence in Alabama.

Charges against the three individuals were brought forward in Campbell, Weston, Sheridan, and Park counties in Wyoming.

Vick’s list of charges included 43 wildlife violations from Campbell County
that took place between 2003 and 2012. Charges included illegally
killing, possessing, and/ or transporting two doe and two buck antelope,
11 buck mule deer, pheasants, and a bull elk. He also was charged with
multiple counts of making false statements to receive resident licenses.

Vick’s penalties included prison time, lifetime hunting and fishing bans, and
fines and restitution. His fines from the four counties totaled
$113,125, and restitution totaled $87,000.

“He forfeited four bull elk mounts, one buck antelope mount, three buck
mule deer mounts, and a Winchester rifle used in the illegal killings,”
the release stated.

“He additionally (forfeited) three bighorn sheep rams, three moose, seven
elk, eight antelope, one mule deer, a walrus mask, and one gull mount to
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after the November 2017 search
warrant.”

Robert Underwood’s charges included 35 wildlife violations from Campbell County
that occurred between 2003 and 2012. They included charges of killing
or possessing eight mule deer bucks, two bull elk, a cow elk, and a
bobcat.

He also was charged with making false statements on applications to obtain Wyoming resident licenses for moose, bighorn sheep, wild bison, and a mountain goat for
his son, David Underwood, and Vick.

Robert Underwood pleaded no contest to charges from both Weston and Campbell
counties. He was sentenced to 50 days in jail, along with penalties that
included lifetime hunting and fishing bans. He was ordered to pay fines
totaling $46,060 and total restitution of $36,550 in those two
counties.

David Underwood’s charges included 16 wildlife violations that occurred
between 2005 and 2015, including illegally killing a buck antelope and
pheasants without a license. He, too, was charged with making false
statements to obtain Wyoming resident licenses.

David Underwood pleaded guilty in Weston County as an accessory to Vick’s
killing of a bighorn sheep ram. A judge ordered Underwood to pay $5,035
in fines and $5,000 in restitution, and his hunting, fishing, and
trapping privileges were revoked for five years.

According to the release, David Underwood also pleaded no contest to eight
charges from Campbell County, and another eight charges were dismissed. A
plea deal outlined $7,010 in fines and $3,000 in restitution. His
hunting privileges were suspended for 15 years, beginning at the end of
his five-year suspension from Weston County.

As required by Wyoming statute, the $171,230 in fines imposed by the
judges in these wildlife poaching cases will be distributed to the
public school funds in the counties where the violations occurred.

As required by Wyoming statute, the $131,550 in restitution imposed by the
judges in these cases will be deposited into a Wyoming Game and Fish
Department account that is used for the purchase of access easements to
public and private land.

Wyoming and 48 other states participate in the Interstate Wildlife Violator
Compact. If a person loses hunting or fishing privileges in one state,
the revocation is also in effect in all other partner states.

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