Texas Parks and Wildlife

12 of the Worst Punishments Ever Handed to Poachers

These poachers were hit hard by the justice system.

Here at Wide Open Spaces, we've done a ton of stories on poachers. Everyone hates wildlife crime and it can be quite entertaining to read about the stupidity of poachers.

But some of these stories are downright frustrating, especially when a criminal gets caught stealing the natural resources that belong to all of us and all they get is a $100 fine and a little community service.

Today we're highlighting some of the biggest poaching cases ever. For the purposes of this article, we're looking only at cases that resulted in at least $10,000 in fines or imprisonment and in some cases, both.

These situations sometimes took wildlife crime to new heights. They all resulted in bigger fines than normal, and we think you'll agree these poachers got what was coming to them in the end.

1. Travis D. Johnson, $53,000 Fine, Texas

They say everything is bigger in Texas and that includes this punishment for poaching. The buck Travis D. Johnson poached in Oct. of 2017 would have held a prominent spot atop the Texas record books.

At first Johnson attempted to pass this massive 273-inch Boone and Crockett whitetail deer off as a legitimate harvest. It turns out the poacher wounded the buck on Sept. 30. The buck survived and later showed up in game camera photos alive and kicking.

Johnson then began a dogged pursuit of the animal that lasted until Oct. 7. At first, he claimed to have shot the buck at 7:30 p.m., still within legal shooting time. But a neighboring landowner became suspicious of the timeline based on a text conversation he had with Johnson that evening.

Wildlife officials agreed and when confronted with the conflicting timelines, Johnson admitted he'd shot the buck an hour after dark on land he didn't even have permission to hunt. He later pleaded no contest in Denton County Criminal Court. He lost his hunting privileges and was put on probation for two years. He was also required to perform 40 hours community service.

But the place where the courts really hit Johnson was the wallet. He was ordered to pay a staggering $53,000 in civil restitution fines for robbing law-abiding Texas hunters of the chance at this big buck of a lifetime.

2. Kyler Olsen, $11,000 Fine, Montana

Residents of Butte, Montana were quite upset to find out a well-known mule deer living within the city limits was shot and left for dead in the street in Sept. 2016. Because the buck was a city deer, it was already in an off-limits zone, but law enforcement suspected it was shot after dark too.

A plea to the public for leads was put out and it ultimately paid off. Game Wardens later arrested 20-year-old Kyler Olsen, who pleaded guilty to poaching the buck from a vehicle with the use of an artificial light. Not surprisingly, this wasn't his first poaching offense.

But for this one buck, Olsen lost hunting privileges for five years and was hit with $11,695 in fines. $8,000 of that was restitution for the deer alone.

3. Boniface Matthew Mariango, 12 years in Prison, Tanzania

The U.S. really has it easy when it comes to poaching, at least when you compare our wildlife crime problems to those that Africa faces. Sadly, countless species on that continent are currently teetering on the brink of extinction because the poachers there are simply relentless in their pursuit. Law enforcement officials often find themselves outnumbered and outgunned.

So it was a huge relief for Tanzanian officials in Oct. of 2015 when they finally apprehended Boniface Matthew Mariango. Also known by the nickname "The Devil," Mariango is one of the most notorious elephant poachers and ivory smugglers in history.

The story of Mariango got international attention thanks to actor Leonardo DiCaprio producing a documentary about the long hunt for this notorious poacher. When Mariango and his brothers were arrested, they were in possession of nearly $850,000 worth of ivory.

Officials did not go easy on The Devil, and in March of 2017 he was sentenced to 12 years in prison for his crimes.

4. Alan Roy Aronson, 30 days in jail, $66,050 Fine, Oregon

Biggest Poaching Cases

Oregon State Police

Oregon officials said Alan Roy Aronson was running an illegal hunting guide operation from 2010 to 2012. In that time period officials found Aronson had guided poachers to the harvest of nine bison and dozens of elk.

To make matters worse, Aronson was not licensed as a guide in Oregon and the hunts he was guiding were on property he didn't own. Officials said he didn't care if the people he took out had a hunting license or not. And through their investigation, they found many of them didn't.

Thankfully the entire operation came to a screeching halt after an anonymous tip to law enforcement.

Many people were hit with poaching charges in this case; Aronson's wife Emily received a $15,350 fine herself, but Alan got the worst of it. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and was handed $66,050 in fines. He also forfeited a pickup and two ATVs used in the crimes. He was then slapped with a lifetime hunting ban, probably much to the relief of lawful Oregon hunters.

5. Chumlong Lemtongthai, Six Years in Prison, South Africa

Chumlong Lemtongthai was considered the kingpin of a South Africa poaching operation. Lemtongthai hired women to pose as hunters. But the women didn't actually shoot the animals.

Instead, it turned out the women were just pawns to get the legal permits and paperwork needed to pass carcasses off as hunting trophies and get the animals onto the Asian black market for ivory sale. South African officials said Lemtongthai's group was responsible for the poaching of at least 50 animals, 26 of which Lemtongthai was involved in personally.

In 2012 it all came crashing down. Initially, the courts sentenced Lemtongthai to a staggering 40 years in prison. He successfully got his sentence reduced on appeal twice and was released this past September.

As frustrating as that is, it is still six years of his life he'll never get back. It was also reported he had property seized and had to pay almost $78,000 in fines. The good news about this story is that it clued South African officials in on this type of scheme, and hopefully they can close the door on it ever happening again.

6. Scott Malinowski, $15,510 fine, Michigan

Here in my home state of Michigan, hunters are allowed to harvest two antlered deer a year. Most old timers will tell you to be careful what you use that second tag on, because you never know what will walk out later in the season.

On November 15, 2014, Scott Malinowski shot an 18-point buck on opening day of Michigan's firearms deer season. There was just one problem: while it was legal for Malinowski to be in the woods that day, he had already limited out on antlered deer for the year back in October.

The poacher took the deer to a local buck pole, but someone noticed Malinowski was over the limit and alerted the DNR. He later admitted his crime to officials and got hit with a new set of fines that charges $750 per point for a deer with 11 or more.

The result was $15,510 worth of fines, which according to the DNR he paid right away. It was definitely a costly lesson to learn and hopefully taught others who might consider going over the limit.

7. Robert Freeman, Four Years in Prison, $5,000 Fine, Ohio

Robert Freeman was just one of eight people nabbed by Ohio officials after a two-year investigation into a large poaching ring. The ring shot deer out of season, from vehicles, after hours, and on private property without permission. They also illegally sold venison.

This case was so big that parts of it are still being worked out within the courts. But in February 2017, Robert Freeman, who pleaded guilty to his part in it, was sentenced to four years in prison and $5,513.03 in restitution.

Freeman also lost hunting privileges for 18 years and forfeited an SUV, muzzleloader, two rifles, and several deer mounts in the case. The prison sentence isn't particularly long, but it is unusual for a poaching case in the U.S.

8. Brandon Yamanaka, $15,650 Fine, Oregon

Harvesting a trophy blacktail deer is no easy feat. They live in rugged country and most don't grow to a substantial size. This is probably why an Oregon judge dropped some pretty hefty fines on Brandon Yamanaka and another man in 2017.

According to the Oregon State Police, Yamanaka poached many animals, including some trophy class blacktails, in closed seasons. He pleaded guilty in Benton County Court and received the usual community service and probation, but he also had to forfeit his firearms and pay $15,650 in fines.

Hopefully the large fines will make him think twice about stealing wildlife resources ever again.

9. Andrew J. Smith, $15,079 Fine, 180 days in Jail, Ohio

Biggest Poaching Cases

Boone and Crockett class whitetails are incredibly hard to come by. So when a poacher steals one, it's a real gut punch to local hunters who never had a chance at the animal. Andrew J. Smith and his buddy Adam A. Petrella robbed law abiding hunters of two such deer in 2015.

Petrella poached a 17-pointer scoring nearly 170 inches, and Smith poached a 22-pointer scoring 194 2/8 inches. The duo illegally shot the deer with crossbows in an urban area outside of Cleveland. Petrella had his hunting privileges revoked for three years and had to pay $8,225 in fines and court costs.

But Smith got the worse of the two. He was slapped with a $15,079 fine and was sentenced to 180 days in jail for robbing Ohio of the monster 22-pointer.

10. John Walker Drinnon, $18,000 Fines and Hunting Season Weekends in Jail, Texas

This poacher tried to pass off a massive 19-point Texas buck as an Oklahoma kill. Fortunately, someone had game camera photos that proved otherwise. One thing you can say about Texas, they know how to give a punishment that makes one think about their crimes.

A Grayson County District Judge ordered Drinnon to spend his weekends in jail during hunting season for the next five years. That's definitely a unique way to punish a poacher! Drinnon will also be feeling the hit to his wallet. He is to pay $18,000 in fines in the case.

11. Johnny Clay, $23,572.05 Fine, Ohio

This poacher almost got away with his crime. We're just fortunate his ego got the best of him.

Johnny Clay tied to pass off this massive 197-inch monster buck off as a Kentucky harvest in 2009. It might have worked, but he took the buck to a hunting show where two Ohio hunters familiar with the deer were also in attendance and knew the story was false.

They in turn alerted an Ohio Game Warden and Clay confessed to trespassing and poaching after finding out there was video proof the animal was an Ohio deer.

The state of Ohio didn't go easy on Clay. They hit him with a $23,572.05 fine for stealing one of the biggest typical whitetails to ever walk the woods in the Buckeye State.

12. Christopher Kiernan, $10,000 Fine, Loss of Hunting Privileges, Illinois

This buck was passed off as a legitimate harvest after it was poached in 2009. The deer even appeared in North American Whitetail Magazine with a story of the hunt written by the poacher Christopher Kiernan himself. It appeared this buck would have a prominent place in the Illinois record books.

But what Kiernan's story didn't share was the fact that Kiernan and his buddies had been trespassing on private property when he poached this 261-inch 36 pointer. In fact, Illinois officials found they had been trespassing and poaching on this particular Grundy County property for years.

Kiernan lost his hunting privileges for two years and he had to pay $10,000 in restitution for robbing hunters in the Land of Lincoln of a legitimate chance at this impressive buck.