A six-month undercover operation by the Arizona Game and Fish Special Operations Unit in Phoenix has culminated in six felony arrest warrants in Payson and Young.
Carl Lutch, wildlife manager with Game and Fish in Payson, said two of those arrested had been living in Payson. They are William Matthew Seeley, 20, and Leroy Johnson, 19. Both were formerly of Young and were involved in construction work.
Other suspects from the Young area are Colby Seeley, 23; Hason Osman Zale, 19; Martin Elliott Saldeen, 21; and, Tina Marie Haught, 20.
Five of the suspects were arrested and a sixth, Saldeen, has not yet been served with the arrest warrant.
The investigation resulted in a total of 13 class six felony charges and 30 misdemeanor charges. More arrests may be forthcoming, Lutch said.
Colby Seeley had his preliminary hearing in the Payson Justice Court today (Tuesday). Results were not available by press time.
Game and Fish Chief of Operations Leonard Ordway said the department received information this summer that wildlife was being sold for meat in the Payson area.
Lutch said the wildlife poaching operation in Payson and Young had been going on for quite a while.
The arrests followed searches of two residences in Young, where undercover officers found spotlights that had been used, Lutch said. He said officers also found recent evidence of an elk that had been killed.
"We know of three elk," he said. "What they were doing is killing elk and deer and selling the meat. We also bought one bear gall bladder."
Lutch said undercover agents went with the suspects on the kills in Young and made purchases in Payson.
"They were selling out of Payson," Lutch said. "We don't know the extent of it.
"We know these guys were selling to other people and we would like more information."
Lutch said if anyone who was involved in purchasing the meat comes forward with information they will not be prosecuted. "But, we'd like to know the full extent of their operations," he said. "The investigation is continuing."
Anyone with information can call the Arizona Game and Fish Department's Operation Game Thief hotline at 1-800-352-0700.