An undercover Idaho Fish and Game sting operation broke a seven-man poaching ring in Custer County earlier this month, leading to five sentences for illegal hunting in the Yankee Fork drainage.
Two local men, two California residents, two Arizona residents and one Mexican national were found guilty on 29 counts of killing big game during closed season, exceeding bag limits, failure to produce game for inspection and wrongfully buying resident hunting tags, among other charges.
Conservation officers from the Salmon Region Fish and Game office, who staged multiple undercover overnight operations to catch the gang in the act, caught the seven men.
According to a news release from the department, the investigation began in October. Salmon Conservation Officers Ryan Hilton and Andy Smith followed the group for months to confirm the allegations.
The first clue that the allegations were true came on Oct. 14, when Hilton followed two of the hunters and was able to confirm that the men were hunting out of season.
"I hid in the brush and ended up waiting nine hours for them to return," Hilton said. "I was able to hear the shots that we later confirmed illegally killed a six-point bull elk."
Smith and Hilton followed the hunters for nearly a week, dressed as civilian hunters and documenting gunshots and deer and elk transported by the group. The officers kept watch at all hours.
"We suspected they were transporting the animals to Hailey at night," Smith said. "We took turns sleeping so one of us could always be watching their camp."
Ultimately, the officers discovered that five members of the group had been using a relative's Hailey address to purchase resident hunting tags in Idaho.
Phoenix resident Sergio Pasillas-Garcia, 39, was charged with six counts of buying an incorrect license or tag.
According to the department news release, the Phoenix man had been illegally purchasing resident tags and licenses since 2001. He was sentenced to 900 days in jail, though 860 of those have been suspended.
Martin Pasillas-Garcia, a 45-year-old resident of Torrance, Calif., was charged with illegally using a resident hunting license and tag for eight years.
Hailey residents Juan Pasillas-Garcia and Jose Pasillas-Garcia were charged with additional violations.
Juan Pasillas-Garcia was found guilty of using his own tag on a deer killed by Martin Pasillas-Garcia and storing an illegally killed untagged deer from another hunter at his Hailey home. Jose Pasillas-Garcia was found guilty of failing to produce game for inspection.
Cumulatively, Custer County Magistrate Judge Charles L. Roos on Monday sentenced five of the hunters to a total of 2,910 days of jail time, though all but 200 days were suspended. Individual sentences to be served range from 40 hours of community service to 80 days in jail.
Total fines accrued by the group came to $25,223. Sergio Pasillas-Garcia lost his hunting, fishing and trapping privileges for life, while the other four charged split 65 years of hunting probation among them.
Two of the hunters—Salvador Garcia of Inglewood, Calif., and Alejandro Pasillas-Garcia, 28, of Agua Caliente, Mexico—were released with warnings. Garcia had been charged with failing to produce game for inspection, while the other man was charged with possessing game taken illegally.
David Silcock, regional conservation officer for Salmon Fish and Game, was unavailable for comment on how many animals the hunters may have poached over the past 10 years.
Katherine Wutz: email@example.com