COLORADO SPRINGS. – An anonymous tip from the public led to weeks of investigation by Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers and resulted in the arrests and guilty pleas of two Florida men accused of participating in a poaching operation that claimed at least three mule deer and six pronghorn in Elbert and Lincoln counties.
CPW officers allege the poachers, who were in Colorado working jobs in the energy industry, killed deer and pronghorn – simply decapitating some and leaving their torsos – and shipped their heads to a taxidermist in Florida for mounting.
CPW, working with Colorado Springs Police Department, the Limon Police Department and the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, made two arrests in the case. First they arrested Timothy Draper, 31, of Bunnell, Florida, in March after he arrived at the Colorado Springs Airport. Before his plane landed, CPW executed a search warrant and confiscated Draper’s truck from the airport parking lot. Forensic analysis of the truck produced important DNA evidence in the case.
About the same time, CPW officers also arrested Lawrence J. Cowart, 29, of Bunnell, Florida, after a search of his Limon apartment and his vehicle produced evidence of poaching.
The men were accused of illegally killing deer and pronghorn in the Limon area over a 10-month period dating to May 2017. CPW officers accused Draper and Cowart of multiple counts of willful destruction of wildlife, Class 5 felonies, as well as several misdemeanor charges of illegal taking of wildlife, hunting from a motor vehicle, waste of game meat and illegal transfer of a hunting license.
In October, Draper pleaded guilty to illegal possession of three or more big game animals. As part of his plea agreement, Draper forfeited all weapons and equipment used in his crime.
Cowart pleaded guilty to a Class 5 felony of willful destruction of wildlife and forfeited all his firearms and equipment used in his crime.
Both Draper and Cowart still face possible suspension of their hunting privileges, ranging anywhere from one year to lifetime suspensions.
CPW’s Frank McGee, Area Wildlife Manager for the Pikes Peak region, said poaching is a crime CPW takes seriously.
“As the agency responsible for perpetuating the wildlife resources of the state, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will not tolerate poaching,” McGee said. “These men are not hunters by any definition. In the eyes of CPW, and the law, they are criminals who were engaged in illegal killing of wildlife.”
As part of their plea agreements, Draper and Cowart surrendered the trophy heads of the illegally harvested deer and pronghorn as well as several firearms used in the poaching.
McGee said the investigation is ongoing and more arrests and misdemeanor citations could follow as district wildlife managers Benjamin Meier and Logan Wilkins pursue additional leads in the case.
“This case is a great example of the work our wildlife officers do on a daily basis,” McGee said of Meier and Wilkins. “We pride ourselves on our law enforcement work. And it shows our commitment to stopping poachers.”
McGee also praised the person who came forward with the tip to CPW’s poaching hotline Operation Game Thief.
“We depend on the public to report suspicious activity,” McGee said. “We have a limited staff. It’s critical we get help from the public to stop crimes against wildlife. This is a great example that when people call, we respond.”
Anyone who has information about a possible crime against wildlife is encouraged to call CPW or report it anonymously to Operation Game Thief. Witnesses can reach Operation Game Thief several ways including by calling, toll-free, 1-877-COLO-OGT (or 877-265-6648). Verizon cell phone users can dial #OGT. Or send an email to CPW at [email protected] .
Callers do not have to reveal their names or testify in court. A $500 reward is offered for information on cases involving big game or endangered species, while $250 is offered for information on turkey and $100 for fishing and small game cases.
A Citizens Committee administers the reward fund, which is maintained by private contributions. The board may approve rewards of up to $1,000 for flagrant cases. Rewards are paid for information that leads to an arrest or a citation being issued.
To learn more about Operation Game Thief, visit the CPW website, http://cpw.state.co.us/aboutus/Pages/OGT.aspx