By Molly Kirk/DWR
Photos by Meghan Marchetti/DWR
Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) Conservation Police Officers (CPOs) recently closed a remarkable serial poaching case that encompassed multiple jurisdictions. “It was really a case of a lifetime,” said DWR CPO Sgt. Derrick Kekic, who serves in Frederick County. “This was a single individual, what’s known as a lone wolf type of offender. He’s a serial poacher who was truly harming the natural resources.”
When CPOs carried out a search warrant at the poacher’s residence, they found massive quantities of evidence of his illegal activities. “He had five-gallon buckets full of turkey beards. There were more turkey beards than any one person could legally harvest in a lifetime,” said Kekic. “There was an 8-foot by 8-foot shed in his back yard that was full floor to ceiling with deer antlers.”
In the course of the investigation, CPOs also found that the poacher was illegally commercializing wildlife by selling meat, and creating DWR customer accounts with stolen Social Security numbers to check in some harvested wildlife.
The case began in 2019 when CPOs received a tip from someone familiar with the poacher’s activities. After investigating and collecting enough evidence to secure a search warrant, CPOs were able to seize the poacher’s phone to continue the investigation.
The forensics examiner of the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office assisted in the processing of the data from the poacher’s phone, resulting in thousands of pieces of evidence, including photos and location history. CPOs combined that evidence with information gathered during interviews to build the case against the poacher over the course of 18 months. “The case came together through old-fashioned police work and modern policing with technology like the phone and social media,” Kekic said. “We worked with multiple DWR regions collaboratively along with special ops and K9 units. We also had great cooperation with the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office and their forensics examiner. It was a great team effort.”
The CPOs secured poaching violations in nine different DWR jurisdictions, but only filed charges against the poacher in three jurisdictions as part of a global plea agreement, which combined the charges from all the jurisdictions into one area to which the poacher plead guilty and received a specific sentence. That plea agreement was entered in Frederick County, and the poacher received a 25-year revocation of his hunting privileges, was charged approximately $10,000 in replacement costs for the illegal harvested wildlife, and received a five-year jail sentence. He served six months of the jail sentence, but if he’s caught violating again he’ll serve the remainder of the time.
“The resources he stole and the damage he did was tremendous,” said Kekic. “And he really was just a single individual. It’s very unusual for a poacher to operate on their own, and it makes it extremely difficult to catch them because they’re out there doing this for their own satisfaction. There’s no one to witness it and they’re not bragging about it to friends, which is often how people get caught—when someone they brag to tips us off.”