TUSCUMBIA — The Missouri Department of Conservation credits public cooperation, investigative work and an anonymous tip for a poaching arrest near the Lake of the Ozarks.
Throughout October, conservation agents in the lake area responded to multiple complaints of dead deer with only the heads, tenderloins and other parts removed. An anonymous call from a citizen to the the department's Operation Game Thief hotline ultimately led investigators to a suspect in the Tuscumbia area who now faces charges in Miller and Shannon counties.
Harold P. Piatt, 23, of Tuscumbia, is accused of 14 misdemeanor charges for the illegal taking of deer with the aid of artificial light and taking of deer during closed season, two misdemeanor charges of illegal possession of wildlife parts and a misdemeanor charge of taking furbearers in closed season, as well as both misdemeanor and felony drug possession and drug paraphernalia charges.
Each wildlife misdemeanor charge comes with a potential fine of up to $2,000 and/or one year in jail. Under a new state law, authorities may also seek restitution of up to $5,000 for each antlered deer, with all associated monetary penalties going to public schools in the counties where the violations occurred. The firearms, including a .30-06 rifle, a .243 rifle, and a .22-caliber rifle suspected of being used to commit the violations were also seized.
"This is a great example of some awesome public cooperation combined with outstanding investigative skills on the part of our agents in the field and the Miller County Sheriff's Department," MDC Protection Division Field Chief Dean Harre said in a news release.
Conservation agents Eric Swainston and Tyler Brown and District Supervisor Mike Jones, with assistance from the Miller County Sheriff's Office, are continuing the investigation and still need the public's assistance with the case. Investigators believe most of the antlers were left on public lands near the towns of Bunker in Dent and Reynolds counties and Timber in Shannon County. Anyone who finds something possibly related to this case is encouraged to contact the hotline at 1-800-392-1111 or a local conservation agent.
"Cases like this are often initiated from concerned citizens who contact their local Conservation agent or the OGT hotline to report wildlife violations," Harre said. "Without public cooperation protecting the wildlife resources of the state, populations would surely suffer, and cases like these would most likely never be resolved."
Local conservation agents and contact information are listed online at short.mdc.mo.gov/ZoF, and more information about the OGT hotline is available at mdc.mo.gov/contact-engage/report-problems-illegal-activity/operation-game-thief.
Callers to the hotline may remain anonymous. If they provide information that leads to an arrest, they may ask to be considered for a reward. Rewards range from $50-$1,000.