Two men have been charged for their roles in an Arizona mule deer poaching case. Both Blake R. Owens, 30, of Heber, Arizona as well as Thomas “TJ” Purinton, 33, of Overgaard, Arizona were the two men charged in the case. Numerous felony and misdemeanor crimes were discovered during an almost two-year-long investigation by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
Blake Owen’s Poaching Crimes
The two men started their poaching habits back in 2015. The crimes and punishments will be listed below starting with Blake Owens.
- Blake Owens has been charged with over a dozen criminal charges. Owens was charged with multiple cases of fraudulent schemes, Class 2 Felonies, and forgery, Class 4 Felonies. These were for allegedly tricking hunting groups and organizations into believing that he deserved recognition and awards for his poached animals. Owens was also charged with one count of aggravated assault on a peace officer, a Class 5 Felony.
- Blake Owens allegedly poached five different animals. Four of the five animals were considered trophy class mule deer. The list of the poached mule deer is as follows. A 4×4 200” mule deer, a 3×3 drop tine mule deer, a 6×6 mule deer, and a 5×4 velvet mule deer. The deer were either taken illegally out of season, or they were taken with a rifle during an archery-only season. Owens wildlife-related charges are all Class 1 and Class 2 misdemeanors.
“The individuals that kill wildlife unlawfully are not hunters; they are poachers that are stealing from the folks that want to see wildlife available for hunting and viewing purposes. Poachers that unlawfully target large older age class male animals outside of hunting seasons, like large mule deer bucks or bull elk, often do so when they are most vulnerable, including at night and during breeding seasons when they are easier to locate.” – AZGFD Pinetop Regional Supervisor Chris Bagnoli.
Owen’s crimes continue
- It is alleged that Blake Owens forged documents to defraud hunting organizations. These organizations include The Pope and Young Club, The Boone and Crocket Club, and Eastman’s Bowhunting Journal. Owens sent the faked paperwork into the organizations asking for awards and recognition for his illegally taken deer.
- Owens entered a plea deal on January 7, 2020. Under this plea deal, he was sentenced to three years of supervised probation. Likewise, Blake’s sentencing also states he must spend six months in county jail. However, if the probation is completed successfully, Owens won’t serve any jail time. It was also stated he must surrender all awards and certificates from the groups he defrauded. Owens must also surrender all of the illegally taken deer mounts. Lastly, Owens must perform 50 hours of community service and pay $18,724 in fines.
Thomas Purinton’s poaching of a trophy mule deer
Likewise, Owen’s partner in crime, Thomas Purinton also entered a plea deal for his own crimes. Purinton’s crimes and punishment will be listed below.
- Thomas Purinton pleaded guilty on December 3, 2019. Court records suggest that Purinton plead guilty to attempted fraudulent schemes, a Class 6 felony. He also pleaded guilty to taking a deer without a license, taking a deer during a closed season, and possessing illegally taken game.
- Purinton was a licensed taxidermist at the time of the crimes. He mounted and posted pictures of the poached deer on his taxidermy social media page. Purinton also submitted fraudulent taxidermy records in an attempt to hide his and Owen’s illegally taken deer.
- Thomas was sentenced to 18 months of supervised probation for his role in this mule deer poaching case. He must also pay $2,562 in fines as well as serve 40 hours of community service. Like Owens, Purinton must also surrender all illegally taken wildlife.
“The individuals, in this case, are thieves, stealing wildlife from all of us. They were motivated by greed, notoriety, and personal gain. The vast majority of hunters in Arizona are law-abiding citizens participating in fair chase and ethical, sustainable hunting practices.” – AZGFD Law Enforcement Branch Chief Gene Elms
Now that the criminal cases are over, the Arizona Game and Fish Department has stepped in to take action against the men. The Department has the authority to revoke licenses and levy financial assessments against any wrongdoers.