Elk NetworkAnonymous Tip Leads to Cross-Country Poaching Arrest

General | February 19, 2020

Below is a news release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Thanks to an anonymous tip to Colorado’s Operation Game Thief Hotline, two Florida hunters who illegally killed mule deer and pronghorns will probably never hunt in Colorado again.

The suspensions of their Colorado hunting privileges come after their 2018 guilty pleas to participating in a poaching operation that claimed at least three mule deer and six pronghorn in Elbert and Lincoln counties.

A Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission hearing examiner ruled Tuesday, Feb. 11, that a 20-year suspension was warranted for Timothy C. Draper, 33, of Bunnell, Fla., after he pleaded guilty in 2018 in Lincoln County Court to a misdemeanor charge of illegal possession of three or more big game animals.

Draper was sentenced to two years supervised probation and forfeited all weapons and equipment used in his crime. He also paid a $2,100 game penalty and a total of $4,213 in fines and court costs.

A lifetime ban was issued by the CPW Commission hearing examiner against Lawrence J. Cowart, 30, also of Bunnell, Fla., after he pleaded guilty on Oct. 5, 2018, in Lincoln County Court to willful destruction of wildlife, a class 5 felony.

Cowart was sentenced to three years probation, forfeited all his firearms and equipment used in his crime. He paid $2,440 in fines and court costs. Draper and Cowart also surrendered the trophy heads of the illegally harvested deer and pronghorn.

CPW Commission hearing examiner Steven Cooley had some tough words for the two poachers.

“Lawrence Cowart’s crimes against Colorado’s wildlife were committed intentionally and with complete disregard,” Cooley wrote in his findings. “Mr. Cowart has a history of violating wildlife laws in his home state of Florida and in North Carolina. His most recent wildlife violations in Colorado are considered among the most serious of criminal activity against wildlife, where an animal is killed for its trophy parts and the meat is abandoned to waste.

“Given his history and escalating criminal behavior, Mr. Cowart is viewed as a threat to Colorado’s wildlife. Although he expressed remorse during his suspension hearing, his repeated criminal actions against wildlife do not reflect this.”

Cooley was equally unmoved by Draper’s claim that his involvement was minimal compared to Cowart. He noted Draper “expressed little remorse, or accountability, for his actions.”

“Timothy Draper has repeatedly demonstrated a deliberate lack of regard for Colorado’s wildlife,” Cooley wrote. “His actions are not viewed as hunting, but rather as outright poaching, done without any valid license, or outside established hunting seasons.

“Mr. Draper is an adult, experienced hunter who could have stopped his criminal conduct at any time. But, instead, he continued to kill big game animals and transport the heads and antlers back to Florida. There can be no tolerance for Colorado’s wildlife, and wildlife laws, to be abused and disrespected in this manner.

The suspensions end a poaching case triggered by a tip to CPW’s poaching hotline Operation Game Thief from a member of the public.

CPW officers Ben Meier and Logan Wilkins launched a lengthy investigation of Cowart and Draper, who were in Colorado working jobs in the energy industry. CPW amassed evidence the men killed deer and pronghorn – simply decapitating some and leaving their torsos – and shipped their heads to a taxidermist in Florida for mounting.

CPW worked with Colorado Springs Police Department, the Limon Police Department and the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office in developing the case.

“This case is a great example of the work our wildlife officers do on a daily basis,” said Frank McGee, Area Wildlife Manager for the Pikes Peak region. “We pride ourselves on our law enforcement work. And it shows our commitment to stopping poachers.”

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 game.thief@state.co.us​​.

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.

For 2020, Remington partnered with the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to increase the visibility of poaching incidents in an effort to reduce poaching nationwide.

(Photo source: Colorado Parks and Wildlife)