By The Gillette News Record
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
GILLETTE — A former Gillette man has been charged with 35 counts of big game violations dating back to 2003.
Most of the charges — all misdemeanors — against Robert A. Underwood, 75, now of Jones, Oklahoma, involve shooting deer or elk out of season or without a license, but several of the counts also involve his alleged efforts to get Wyoming licenses or preference points for two other people living out of state to take moose, Bighorn sheep, mountain goat or bison.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges at his arraignment in District Court last week.
Underwood is the second person charged in the four-year long investigation that involved not only local Game and Fish wardens, but investigators with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, who obtained federal search warrants and conducted searches on homes in Alabama, Oklahoma and South Dakota, according to an affidavit of probable cause.
Russell “Rusty” Vick of Buhl, Alabama, pleaded not guilty in late July in Gillette to 42 big game violations.
In their searches officials seized wildlife items, computers, cellphones and documents.
Wildlife officials found numerous photographs that were taken of Vick, Underwood and family members 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.
Many of the photos were taken in what was then Underwood’s garage in Gillette, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit separates Underwood’s alleged crimes by years:
Nov. 12 to Dec. 10, 2003: Through the search warrants, investigators seized digital and physical evidence that shows during that time period that Underwood, Vick and a family member, allegedly killed six buck mule deer without licenses and during a closed season. Underwood had a license but had killed another deer earlier in the season.
Oct. 8 to Oct. 10, 2005: Underwood and Vick illegally killed five buck mule deer without licenses. Underwood had a license but already killed a buck mule deer in October, making the remaining deer illegal.
Oct. 3, 2007: Underwood illegally killed a bull elk without a license while hunting with Vick. Then he was an accessory when Vick illegally killed a bull elk on a fraudulently obtained license and then Vick failed to tag the elk with the license. Vick and Underwood illegally killed a cow elk at the same ranch without a license that same day. Vick then illegally transported the bull elk that Underwood killed outside of Wyoming without a Wyoming interstate game tag. Investigators were able to match the 6×6 elk from photos taken at the scene to those of a mounted elk at Vick’s taxidermy shop in Alabama.
Sept. 26 to Oct. 9, 2008: Underwood and Vick allegedly conspired to kill at least four bull elk between them but only Underwood legally possessed a valid license. They killed two bull elk on Oct. 4 and Oct. 9, but were already over their limit because they both had already killed bull elk on Sept. 26 and Sept. 30.
Oct. 2 to Oct. 14, 2009: Underwood and Vick were accessories when a South Dakota man illegally killed one buck antelope in southern Campbell County on Oct. 2, and Underwood was an accessory when he accompanied Vick and another man on Oct. 3 when they both illegally killed ring-necked pheasants in northern Campbell County without game bird licenses.
Underwood also is accused of being an accessory when Vick illegally killed a bull elk without a license after already killing another bull elk Sept. 30 with a fraudulently obtained license. He also was an accessory when Vick took an over limit of bull elk when he illegally killed the second bull elk on Oct. 12, 2009, which investigators matched from photos to a 6×6 mounted elk they found while executing search warrants.
He also illegally killed a bobcat without a license on Oct. 14, 2009, even though the season didn’t open until a month later. Vick then mounted the bobcat for Underwood at his Alabama taxidermy shop. He also was an accessory when Vick illegally killed ring-necked pheasants in northern Campbell County without a license on Oct. 14.
Underwood also is accused of conspiring with Vick to get Wyoming resident hunting licenses from 2004 to 2013, and to apply for licenses or buy preference points for Bighorn sheep, wild bison, mountain goat in 2012.
He also is accused of conspiring with a South Dakota man for similar privileges, according to the affidavit.
The misdemeanor crime of taking a game animal without a license or during a closed season and the crime of fraudulently getting a hunting license — which involve 26 of the 35 counts against Underwood — carry a maximum penalty of a year in jail and $10,000 fine.