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Guilty plea entered in poaching ring arrest

OLIVIA -- An Olivia man believed to be at the center of a deer poaching ring pleaded guilty Friday to two charges for shining deer, but investigators are still hoping the public can offer information that could lead to charges against other possible accomplices.

To date, charges have been filed against nine people in Renville and Brown counties for roles in the alleged ring, which operated during September, October and November of 2009.

Chuck Lee Baumgartner, 33, of Olivia, pleaded guilty Friday in District Court in Olivia to two gross misdemeanor charges of using artificial lights to take wild game. In return, 15 other charges were dismissed, including unlawful transfer and over-limits of game, illegally transferring licenses or tags, taking animals from a vehicle, possessing an armed crossbow in a vehicle and hunting during night hours.

As part of the agreement, District Judge Randall Slieter sentenced Baumgartner to serve 60 days in jail beginning on Jan. 2, 2011, and to pay $490 in fines and fees and make $1,500 in restitution, or $500 for each of three deer Baumgartner admitted were taken.

He was also placed on probation for two years and has a stayed jail sentence of 305 days. The court approved returning a 1996 Dodge Intrepid and hunting bow confiscated from Baumgartner, but authorities will not return a cross bow with a mounted spotlight, venison or the antlers of an eight-point buck also seized as part of the investigation.

Baumgartner also loses his hunting privileges for three years as a result of the gross misdemeanor conviction.

In pleading guilty, Baumgartner admitted to the court that he shined deer during separate occasions in October and November of 2009 at locations in Winfield and Henryville townships of Renville County.

George Lee Reck, 24, of Hector, pleaded guilty Oct. 4 to three gross misdemeanor charges for shining deer and unlawful transfer. He was ordered to pay $390 in fines and fees and a 93-day jail sentence was stayed.

Reck admitted to being involved with Baumgartner in both of the Renville County incidents.

Information from citizens who called the Turn In Poachers hotline led to the investigation and made possible the charges stopping the alleged activities, according to Greg Abraham, conservation officer with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in the New Ulm region.

Abraham said officers received information that a dozen or more deer were taken during September, October and November. The suspects allegedly drove down country roads in Renville, southern Kandiyohi, and portions of Brown, Lac qui Parle and Yellow Medicine counties during nighttime hours.

He said the investigation indicated that the suspects were organized. Conservation officers from the region devoted numerous hours to the investigation and stake-outs that led to the charges filed in the case.

The complaints filed against Baumgartner and Reck charge that they used a crossbow mounted with a light to shoot the deer. The deer were field dressed where shot and transported to a residence in Olivia where they were butchered in a garage. Some of those involved helped with the butchering and transport, while others purchased archery licenses which they then used to illegally tag the deer.

Officer Abraham said the deer taken were targets of opportunity spotted along roadways and often near rural homes and groves. He said there is no way to know how many deer may have been injured and not pursued by the suspects.

Laurence Stratton, Renville County assistant attorney, said it is believed the suspects divided the venison amongst themselves. He said the charges against Baumgartner identify four illegally taken deer, but he said evidence indicates that more deer were taken as part of the poaching operation. When suspects were interviewed, it was apparent that there was confusion among them about where and how many deer were taken, he said.

Officer Abraham encourages anyone with information to contact the Turn In Poachers hotline at 1-800-652-9093.

Others charged in case

Along with Chuck Baumgartner, 33, of Olivia, and George Lee Reck, 24, of Hector, charges were filed against seven others for alleged roles in the poaching ring.

These individuals have pleaded guilty to charges resulting from the investigation:

Matthew Wrobleski, 37, of Lake Lillian; transferring a tag for illegally taken game; $190 in fines and fees;

Alberto Martinez Jr., 35, of Willmar, transferring a tag for illegally taken game; $190 in fines and fees;

Richard David Welch, 55, of Willmar, storage of protected wild animal; $190 in fines and fees;

Heather Nicole Halliday, 19, of Olivia, amended charge of using artificial lights to take game; $580 in fines and fees;

Kenton McDowell, 34, of Bird Island, amended charge for transferring a tag for wild game; $190 in fines and fees.

Two defendants have entered not guilty pleas and will return to court on Dec. 2. The defendants and charges are:

Jamie Shields, 33, of Olivia; transferring a license for illegally taken game;

Sarah Kristine Gordon, 21, of Olivia, hunting deer without a license.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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