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Jan. 13, 2003
'Operation Game Thief' Reward Fliers Help Solve Crimes
AUSTIN, Texas -- A recent old-style reward flyer created and distributed by 'Operation Game Thief,' the state's wildlife crime stoppers program, was the key to solving a cold case recently. It's just another success in a program that's paid out more than $160,000 in rewards since its inception more than 20 years ago.
The alligator poaching case, dating back to September, was solved by a Rusk County game warden from a tip received after wardens put flyers in Cherokee, Rusk, and Smith counties. The fliers reminded citizens that they could get a reward of as much as $1,000 for information leading to the solution of the case.
"Big Al," as citizens of the Price Community called the gator, ate raw chickens and other treats at his home in a slough on private property. At 3 a.m. one night during Labor Day weekend, a 20-year old male shot the 10-foot-long alligator with a .357 handgun and a 16-year old juvenile assisted in dragging it ashore where they cut the tail off and left the rest, according to wardens. Both men have since been charged with multiple misdemeanor violations. The 20-year old pleaded no contest to the charges in December and paid a total of $1,156 in fines and court costs. In addition, game wardens have sought forfeiture of the weapon used in the offense. The case against the juvenile has not yet been heard. Alligators can be harvested in the wild only by a licensed hunter using legal methods during the period of Sept. 10-30 on designated properties where hide tags have been issued to the landowner. The two did not possess the proper documentation to hunt alligator.
"The closing of this four-month old case is significant," said Capt. Larry Hand, Tyler District Law Enforcement Supervisor. "It's the first case in Northeast Texas that the special reward flyer concept was used and it was instrumental in solving this case," he said.
OGT program director Lawson "Buddy" Turner at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department said TPWD has produced six flyers during the last few years. Most of the crimes featured on the flyers have been solved. The flyers have featured cases where wildlife was taken illegally and have pictured antelope, alligator, an eagle, brown pelicans, deer and sea turtles. Field wardens can request reward fliers be created about a specific crime they are working on. Then Austin HQ puts them together.
"We explore all avenues to help wardens in the field solve wildlife crimes. This is one tool and it's working out well," Turner said.
The flyers have a short description of the crime and also pictures. One reward flyer was even translated and reprinted in Vietnamese in an attempt to reach a broader segment of the public.
"These flyers are meant to jog people's memories and let them know there is a reward for information they have," Turner said.
OGT was authorized by the legislature in 1981, but there was no funding available to start the program. The Dallas and Houston Safari Clubs provided the seed money to start OGT the following year.
Since those early days, Turner says the program's board of directors has become increasingly aggressive and innovative in promoting the OGT message. As a result, in the past two decades, OGT has paid out more than $160,000 in rewards, received more than 26,000 phone calls, and helped make cases to levy more than $1 million in fines.
If you have any information about a crime involving fish and wildlife, call 800-792-GAME. Callers can remain anonymous. Also, the annual OGT fundraiser will be May 17 in Houston. For more information, call Turner at 512-389-4626.