By Andy Stiny
SANTA FE – The State Police and Game and Fish Department are looking into whether poachers in northern New Mexico are being tipped off by someone in the State Police about investigations of illegal hunting.
An anonymous caller recently provided detailed information on Game and Fish’s “Operation Game Thief” website about poaching of elk and deer in the Tierra Amarillo-Canjilon area, naming two alleged poachers and where they have illegally killed elk and deer.
The same source also said the poachers “have a friend within the State Police” who alerts them “when someone is looking into them” so the poachers “can get rid of stuff,” according to a game officer’s affidavit filed in state District Court.
The officer was able to independently corroborate “the majority” of the tipster’s information and therefore “has reason to believe that the anonymous party is credible and reliable,” says the officer’s affidavit used to obtain search warrants.
However, “The investigation to date has not shown any evidence to indicate or corroborate the informant’s allegation that a New Mexico State Police employee was involved,” said a statement provided Tuesday by Game and Fish.
“If during our continuing investigation we discover evidence to the contrary, we will immediately provide that information to the State Police and assist them as needed.”
In the past couple of weeks, Game and Fish officers have used the warrants to search homes associated with the two alleged poachers at three Rio Arriba County locations – Española, Ojo Caliente and Canjilon – to collect evidence.
State Police Chief Pete Kassetas said Tuesday he has been made aware of the anonymous tip.
“I’m in communication with Game and Fish leadership. Right now, I have absolutely no indication that there is any validity to this statement,” Kassetas said. “However, I take it seriously and any information that I can actively pursue identifying one of my officers will be vetted and investigated to its fullest.”
The two suspects named in the search warrant affidavit have not been charged. The tipster maintained in his Jan. 11 report that, in addition to poaching, the two are engaged in “selling drugs and stealing trucks and replacing the VIN numbers on them to re-sell them.”
Of the poachers’ alleged State Police accomplice, the tipster wrote, “I’m not sure if it is an officer or a higher up.”
Kassetas said the tip was disturbing. “Certainly it’s troubling,” he said. “That’s why we have a system either through our investigative unit or Internal Affairs to look at each instance someone makes an allegation.”
The caller who posted on Operation Game Thief did not want a reward, the documents state.