DENVER - A Colorado Parks and Wildlife hunting license fraud investigation over the course of several years led to a plea deal with a Georgia man who paid fines in excess of $41,700 for fraudulently obtaining licenses and illegal possession of wildlife thanks to the persistence of wildlife officers.
Douglas R. Crookston, 41, of Duluth, Ga. was charged with 42 misdemeanors for wildlife violations, including the illegal possession of six big game animals. Crookston pleaded guilty to ten counts of making a false statement in the purchase of a hunting license, three counts of hunting without a valid license and two counts of illegal possession - one trophy mule deer and one trophy bull elk - on April 28 in Adams County Court.
An Adams County judge sentenced Crookston to two years of supervised probation and a court-ordered suspension of all hunting, fishing and trapping related activities. Crookston’s conviction makes him eligible for suspension of all hunting, fishing and trapping privileges in Colorado and the other 48 states in the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact for up to five years. The possible suspension will be determined by CPW’s suspension hearing examiner at a later date.
As part of the adjudication of the criminal case in this investigation, Crookston was ordered to make a $500 donation to Colorado Operation Game Thief, pay the $41,735.50 in fines and court costs and forfeit all wildlife seized in the investigation to CPW.
“While license fraud cases are not the typical ‘poacher’ case, CPW takes these cases very seriously,” said Wildlife Officer Scott Murdoch, who worked the case. “Colorado residents are entitled to certain privileges that out of state residents are not. This comes in the form of license prices, license draw odds and license allocations. When non-residents claim Colorado residency fraudulently, all wildlife taken become illegal. They are essentially stealing money from CPW and opportunity from lawful residents that may have been able to acquire the fraudulently obtained license.”
In February of 2019, Officer Murdoch obtained information suggesting that Crookston was obtaining licenses as a Colorado resident while residing in Georgia. After some investigating and interviewing of associates and family members, it was clear that while Crookston had lived in Colorado, he sold all property, moved to Georgia and gave up his residence in February of 2017.
Applying for hunting licenses, purchasing licenses and hunting by Crookston occurred for several years after he became a resident of Georgia. Crookston posted photos and videos he took of his hunting adventures to YouTube and other social media sites. He documented every aspect of his hunts, which simplified the investigation by clearly showing when and where certain wildlife were taken.
It became very apparent through the investigation that Crookston was aware of the laws regarding hunting, licenses and residency. He would have licenses obtained through the license draw sent to a friend’s house in Rangely, Colo. He also had a vehicle that he kept registered to a relatives address in Colorado to keep from raising suspicions from wildlife officers that may check him in the field.
“I believe that Mr. Crookston hoped that investigators would just think that this whole thing was a big mix up and move on,” Murdoch stated.
Colorado wildlife officers enlisted the help of officers in both Montana and Georgia. Officers located and seized six big game animals in the course of the investigation - one bull elk, one bear, two mule deer and two pronghorn. Two of the animals, one bull elk and one mule deer met the minimum size required to meet the ‘Samson’ trophy designation, requiring additional mandatory surcharges of $10,000 each.
The Colorado State legislature created the Samson’s Law, which was approved on April 22, 1998. The law deals with an increase in the penalties for poaching big game animals and is named after an iconic elk ‘Samson’ that was poached in Estes Park. The law enforces mandatory penalties for big game animals that meet a ‘trophy’ definition.
“We investigate crimes like this both to protect the wildlife of the state, but also to protect the interests of legal and ethical hunters here in Colorado as well as other states,” Murdoch said. “That is really important. We have a strong heritage in Colorado of hunting, fishing and trapping, that is what pays for wildlife conservation, but only when it is done right.”
Upon completion of the investigation, wildlife officers presented the case to the Adam’s County District Attorney where it was later filed.
“At the end of the day, without the cooperation and support of Montana and Georgia officers and the Adams County District Attorney, the hard work that wildlife officers do to bring poachers to justice would go unanswered,” Murdoch said.
“Adams County Deputy District Attorney Cody Ruebel worked tirelessly to prosecute this case, and I want to commend his efforts,” Murdoch added. “This sends a clear message that wildlife crimes are not going to be tolerated and that the district attorney’s office is working with CPW to protect wildlife and to protect the interests of legal sportspersons of Colorado.”
You can help stop poaching. If you see a poaching incident, report it. Look at it this way: if you saw someone breaking into your neighbor's house, would you just stand by and watch? Of course not; you would report it. Poaching is a crime against you, your neighbor and everyone else in the state of Colorado. Call 1-877-COLO-OGT toll-free or Verizon cell phone users can simply dial #OGT. If you'd prefer, you can e-mail us at email@example.com.