LAKE COUNTY, Calif. – Five poachers were recently sentenced in Lake County for illegally spotlighting and killing deer.
Alfonso Ochoa of Petaluma, Alfonso Magana-Torres of Gardena, Jaime Rodriguez of Lennox, Jose Alberto Rodriguez of Inglewood and Arturo Villanueva-Gomez of Fairfield were sentenced in the case, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff, who files and supervises the prosecution of fish and wildlife crimes in Lake County.
Hinchcliff said the incident for which the men were prosecuted occurred last summer.
On Aug. 24, 2013, local California Fish and Wildlife wardens Lt. Loren Freeman, Doug Willson, Mike Pascoe and Tim Little were involved in a nighttime investigation and surveillance operation in an effort to catch poachers during the early A Zone deer hunting season in Lake County, Hinchcliff said.
Assisting the wardens was a Department of Fish and Wildlife aircraft looking for illegal spotlighting activity that the aircraft could then report to wardens on the ground, he said.
It is illegal to use any artificial light while in possession of a firearm to look for game animals, or to kill a game animal after hours of darkness. “Spotlighting” is a common illegal method used by poachers to kill wildlife illegally, Hinchcliff explained.
On Aug. 24 at approximately 12:35 a.m. the operators of the aircraft contacted the wardens on the ground and advised they had spotted a vehicle spotlighting on Twin Valley Road near Lucerne, according to Hinchcliff.
A short time later wardens on the ground were advised that, using night vision capabilities, they had seen the occupants shoot two animals, get out of the vehicle and go to the dead animals, then get back into the vehicle and leave the area without retrieving the animals they had killed. Hinchcliff said the vehicle's occupants continued using the spotlight as they drove around some more.
The wardens on the ground responded and at 2 a.m. detained the suspect vehicle, which contained five occupants: Ochoa, Magana-Torres, Jaime Rodriguez, Jose Alberto Rodriguez and Villanueva-Gomez. Inside the vehicle wardens located several firearms – including a loaded rifle – and a spotlight plugged into a cigarette lighter, Hinchcliff said.
Wardens then searched the area where the animals were shot, and found two doe deer which had been shot and left to waste. Hinchcliff said it is illegal to kill does during the deer season, only bucks can be taken. It is also illegal to kill a game animal and leave it to waste.
On Oct. 2, Hinchcliff filed charges against all five suspects that included conspiracy, spotlighting, wanton waste of game and other related counts.
On Dec. 10, Ochoa and Alfonso Magana-Torres entered no contest pleas to spotlighting and wanton waste of game. They were each ordered by Judge Andrew Blum to pay $1,155 in fines, sentenced to three years probation – including no hunting and no firearm possession for three years – and ordered to forfeit a Remington .308 rifle and Browning 9 millimeter handgun for destruction, Hinchcliff said. In addition Ochoa was ordered to serve 30 days in jail.
Also on Dec. 10, Arturo Gomez entered a no contest plea to spotlighting and was sentenced to three years probation, no hunting for three years, ordered to pay a fines of $1,155 and forfeit a Remington 30-06 rifle for destruction, according to Hinchcliff.
Hinchcliff said that on Jan. 14, Jose Alberto Rodriguez entered a no contest plea to spotlighting and was sentenced to three years probation, no hunting for three years and ordered to pay a fine of $1,155 fine and forfeit a 30-06 rifle, Hinchcliff said.
On Feb. 4, Jaime Rodriguez entered a no contest plea to spotlighting and was sentenced to three years probation and three years no hunting. Hinchcliff said Rodriguez also was ordered to pay a fine of $1,155 and to forfeit for destruction a .357 Rossi handgun and backpack.
Hinchcliff praised the local Fish and Wildlife wardens for their outstanding efforts to combat poaching and other fish and wildlife related crimes in Lake County.
“It has long been said by people with intimate knowledge of Lake County’s wardens and their efforts and abilities that we are lucky to have some of the best game wardens in the state of California. This case was just further proof of the dedication our local wardens have when it comes to preservation of our fish and wildlife resources,” he said.
Hinchcliff also offered praise for local judges who are willing to impose sentences on violators that send a message that poaching will not be tolerated, and that the cost to poachers when they are caught will be significant.
“Without the cooperation of local judges we cannot obtain sentences that significantly punish violators and deter would be violators,” said Hinchcliff. “Our local judges continue to demonstrate that they care about our local fish and wildlife resources.”