GILLETTE — An Alabama man must pay $72,320 in fines and restitution and serve 80 days in the Campbell County Detention Center for big game violations from 2003-07.
Russell Vick, 55, pleaded no contest to eight counts of illegally taking a game animal without a license or during a closed season. Thirty-six other charges were dismissed.
Vick, who lives in Buhl, Alabama, was charged with 42 big-game violations, including 20 counts of illegally taking a game animal without a license or during a closed season involving buck antelope, buck mule deer, bull and cow elk from 2003-12, according to charging documents.
They also include 13 counts of fraudulently getting or trying to get big game hunting licenses and three instances in which he allegedly killed elk or was around people who killed elk over their limit.
All of the eight counts he pleaded no contest to on Monday involved the illegal killing of mule deer and antelope.
Vick must pay a $5,000 fine and $4,000 in restitution to Wyoming Game and Fish for each count, as well as $40 in court costs for each one. Each count also comes with one year of unsupervised probation, a lifetime hunting ban and 10 days in jail.
Vick was facing one year in jail for each count, but Bartlett waived 355 days for each one. In total, Vick must serve eight years of unsupervised probation and pay $40,000 in fines, $32,000 in restitution to Wyoming Game and Fish and $320 in court costs.
He has posted a $7,500 bond, which will be applied to his balance, meaning he has $64,820 left to pay. It is due by June 2028, the end of his probation.
Vick also must spend 80 days in the Campbell County Jail.
Circuit Judge Wendy Bartlett said Vick’s actions were “offensive” to the state of Wyoming and to the thousands of hunters who follow the rules.
“What were you thinking?” she asked him.
“I was in a different place,” Vick replied. “I was young and stupid, and I apologize for what I’ve done.”
Dustin Kirsch, an investigator with Wyoming Game and Fish, said Vick “falsely claimed Gillette as his home” and worked with Robert and David Underwood to “illegally poach animals” and “further his taxidermy business.”
For nine years, they killed a number of animals without a license and illegally bought resident hunting licenses even though they didn’t live in Wyoming. Kirsch said their actions were “some of the most egregious we’ve seen as investigators.”
Vick’s attorney, Donald Fuller, argued that Vick shouldn’t have to serve any jail time. Fuller said that while “this is an egregious case,” it happened more than a dozen years ago.
“He accepts full responsibility of this,” Fuller said. “But this happened long enough ago (that) Russell Vick is not the same man (now).”
Fuller said he doesn’t see the good that jail time would do, and asked that Bartlett suspend all jail time due to “a major COVID crisis” in Alabama.
Alabama has had more than 30,000 cases, including 9,000 in the last two weeks, and 854 deaths from the coronavirus. Vick lives in Tuscaloosa County, which has 1,637 cases and 35 deaths.
Vick serves in his town’s volunteer fire department, where it’s his job to clear the scene to keep firefighters from getting the coronavirus. He also helps put on a food drive once a month for those who’ve been affected by the pandemic, and he picks up and drops off school lunches for 17 families.
Bartlett was not swayed.
“You’re not going to avoid jail,” she said.
She sentenced Vick to 80 days in jail. However, she will allow him until Sept. 1 to report to the Campbell County jail with the hopes that the pandemic in Alabama dies down.
If Vick had been convicted of all 42 charges, he faced up to 31 years in prison and up to $218,000 in fines.
Robert and David Underwood previously pleaded no contest for their involvement in the case. Robert must pay $52,540 and serve two months in jail, while David must pay $10,010. Robert’s hunting privileges were revoked for life, while David is serving a 15-year suspension from hunting.
The investigation started in 2015 over the illegal purchase of Wyoming resident hunting licenses by Vick and others, which evolved into a federal case, according to an affidavit of probable cause. That led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service getting search warrants for several homes — including Vick’s Buhl, Alabama, home and taxidermy shop — as officials sought cellphones, computers, documents and taxidermy that linked him and others to big game violations.
Those led to more search warrants in the ensuing years as the case developed.
Wildlife officials were aided in their quest by finding numerous photographs that were taken of Vick and others posing with animals that they had killed.
The photographs offered investigators a time and date stamp of various wildlife kills and were detailed enough that they could match the photos of the dead animals to taxidermy mounts found when they conducted their searches. Two of those included a six-by-six bull elk killed illegally in Campbell County in 2007 and 2009, according to court documents.
Game and Fish investigators also were able to determine that Vick had lived in the same area in Buhl since 1985 despite the fact that he used a Wyoming address to apply for hunting licenses. He had never lived in Wyoming the requisite 365 consecutive days, according to the affidavit.
Starting in 2004, Vick began buying Wyoming resident hunting licenses and through the years got or applied for about 30 licenses or preference points, according to the affidavit. They included five game bird license, a deer license, five bull elk licenses, six antelope licenses, three cow/calf elk license, a female/calf wild bison license and preference points for moose and bighorn sheep.