Utah wildlife investigators had a tip about a Duchesne County poacher and photos of him with ill-gotten elk. But he was nowhere to be found.
Then the suspect, Kenneth Swenson, succumbed to the social media hazard of oversharing.
Swenson posted a Facebook video of his friend doing construction work near Swenson’s rural home with what turned out to be a stolen backhoe, investigators said. Officers recognized a mountain in the background. They also spotted an old, “banana-yellow” truck sitting on the property.
Banana yellow, it turns out, shows up prominently on a Google Earth satellite image.
Officers located the property and found elk antlers, deer hides, game meat — and 50 guns that Swenson, a convicted felon, was not allowed to have.
The bust ended one of two poaching sprees involving northeastern Utah families who killed more than a dozen elk, including four trophy bulls, and several deer in 2016. With sentencings in the cases now complete, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources released summaries of the investigations this week.
In September 2016, wildlife officers received two unrelated poaching tips accusing Swenson, 36, and William Thompson, 32, of killing elk and other wildlife in Duchesne and Uintah counties.
The cases show such calls can be valuable even if tipsters don’t supply a lot of evidence initially, said state wildlife officer Eric Miller.
“The tips that we got [in these cases] really provided hardly any information,” Miller said. “Both were anonymous. ... and there was nothing to go on. But we were able to get a lot out of it. Even if you don’t have anything to really go on and can’t prove it, sometimes we can.”
Both men were previously convicted of felonies and forbidden from carrying guns.
Thompson was soon located and admitted to killing four bull elk, including two trophy elk, four cow elk and two buck deer, wildlife officers said.
He also admitted to helping his wife, Jennifer, kill a cow elk and a doe deer, and to helping her father, George Walsh, of East Meadow, N.Y., kill a cow elk, a buck deer and a doe deer, wildlife officials said. Investigators said Thompson illegally obtained and misused multiple hunting tags, including tags in other people’s names.
Swenson was harder to find, Miller said. His name wasn’t connected to a current address, and he was frequently switching between cars that he stashed at friends and relatives’ homes and used in drug dealing, for which he is now serving a federal prison sentence.
Wildlife investigators found Swenson’s home after he posted the video of his friend excavating in Swenson’s yard. While he was filming, Swenson turned around, and Tabby Mountain appeared in the background. The footage also captured the yellow truck, Miller said.
“The thing had not run in years,” Miller said.
Once investigators were able to isolate their search near Tabby Mountain, the truck could be seen in satellite images on Google Earth.
Federal agents joined state and local officers in drug and poaching investigations involving Swenson, and he was arrested in December 2016.
Swenson killed a trophy bull elk and two buck deer and helped his teenage sons kill two other trophy bull elk, Miller said. His wife, Marie, killed a deer.
Some of the animals displayed big game tags Swenson illegally obtained from the Ute tribe, Miller said. When Swenson was arrested, he was found with two handguns as well as marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs, according to wildlife officers.
Investigators later found nearly 50 guns in an RV at Swenson’s home; many of them were stolen, wildlife officers said.
Swenson was charged with more than 40 felony counts, but many of those were dismissed because he is imprisoned in Oregon, serving a seven-year sentence after pleading guilty to a federal drug charge. He pleaded guilty in December to two felony counts of wanton destruction of wildlife, as well as theft and weapons charges.
He was fined $16,000 to fund poaching prevention and enforcement and sentenced to no more than five years in prison for each poaching charge. One poaching case is still pending in Wasatch County. Marie Swenson in January pleaded guilty to misdemeanor wanton destruction of wildlife.
William Thompson in December and January pleaded guilty to seven felony and misdemeanor counts of wanton destruction of wildlife, as well as a several firearms charges and other offenses. He was sentenced to 107 days in jail and fined more than $16,000. His prison sentence was suspended.
Jennifer Thompson pleaded guilty to three felony and misdemeanor counts of wanton destruction of wildlife; she received a suspended prison sentence and 10 days in jail.
William Thompson’s father-in-law, George Walsh, was investigated by wildlife officers in New York State, who found 40 pounds of elk meat at his home. Walsh faces three third-degree felony charges of wanton destruction of wildlife in Uintah County.
The state’s poaching tip hotline is 800-662-3337.