Nucla men, Tennessee clients busted after 17 elk poached

Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016 6:15 PM
Ben Williamson of Morristown, Tenn., poses with the rack of a 7x8 bull elk he killed illegally in 2004. Williamson, along with his son and two Nucla men, were convicted for illegal hunting activities on the Uncompahgre Plateau. The case involved illegal kills of 17 trophy elk and one mountain lion.

Two unlicensed hunting guides from Nucla and their Tennessee clients have been convicted and sentenced by a federal court for illegal hunting activities involving poaching trophy elk on the Plateau, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Nucla residents Gerald Lee Sickels, 42, and Jay Remy Grierson, 46, were indicted by a federal grand jury in November 2014 for violations of the Lacy Act, a federal law that bans illegal trafficking of wildlife. The convictions followed a long-term investigation by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The violations were committed from 1999 to 2011 in prized Game Management Unit 61, where few elk licenses are available each season and many people wait 20 years or more to draw a tag. GMU 61 is on the Uncompahgre Plateau west of Montrose.

Sickels pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiring to violate the Lacey Act, and was sentenced Nov. 7 in federal court in Denver to one year of “intermittent incarceration” and one year of probation, according to court records.

Sickels must report to a local detention facility on all non-work days, on all vacation days, and on all holidays during the one-year period. During the probation, he is prohibited from hunting or acting as a hunting guide. He also had to give up his 1996 Toyota pickup truck and a Fleetwood camping trailer, both of which were used in the commission of federal crimes.

Grierson pleaded guilty to three misdemeanor violations of the Lacey Act and was sentenced in March 2016 to two years of probation and 40 hours of community service.

“We take it seriously when poachers steal wildlife from all of us, especially when they are profiting from that poaching, and we will do everything we can to see that those individuals are brought to justice,” said Renzo DelPiccolo, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Montrose. “Sometimes it takes years to investigate and settle wildlife cases, but that does not deter state and federal investigators from pursuing these crimes.”

Beginning in about 1999 and continuing through 2011, Sickels operated as an illegal unlicensed outfitter and took clients on multiday hunts for which he charged $1,000 to $3,000.

During that time, at least 17 bull elk were killed illegally in GMU 61 by Sickels and his out-of-state clients, Parks and Wildlife said. At least one mountain lion was also killed illegally. Sickels instructed his clients to purchase other hunting licenses to help cover up the illegal activity.

As part of the investigation, Ben Williamson, 61, of Morristown, Tenn., and his son Brett Williamson were also charged with illegal hunting violations. In 2004, Ben Williamson unlawfully killed two bull elk, one a 6x6 and the other a 7x8. In 2009, Brett Williamson, who did not have a hunting license, killed a 6x6 bull elk, then returned to the area in 2010, again without a license, and killed two 6x6 elk.

The two men were charged with misdemeanor violations of the Lacey Act and each paid fines of $6,500. They also were required to forfeit their trophy mounts.

Prime hunting areas like the Uncompaghre Plateau tend to attract illegal outfitters and poachers, said Steve Segin, public affairs officer for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“This was a serious crime committed for over a decade that robs legitimate hunters the opportunity to pursue their sport,” he said. “This conviction is a win for wildlife and sends a message that state and federal wildlife agencies will not tolerate illegal hunting activities.”

Segin said clients told by guides they can illegally hunt are not off the hook either and can be charged.

Officers from the Tennessee Department of Wildlife Resources assisted in the investigation by conducting interviews and seizing evidence.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission Hearing Examiner will review each case and make a determination regarding suspension of the men’s hunting and fishing license privileges. Through a nationwide cooperative agreement known as the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, the men could lose their license privileges in the 45 participating states.

The case was prosecuted by the Environmental Crimes Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, Environment and Natural Resources Division.