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BUTTE — A Dillon couple and 15 of their friends and relatives have been charged with poaching crimes after a sweeping investigation revealed they illegally harvested dozens of animals over the past decade.

Charles “Bill” Foster and his wife, Sally, will make their initial appearance Thursday in Dillon district court. Authorities say they poached more than 20 deer and elk over the course of four hunting seasons and possessed more than 65 game fish over the limit.

The charges cap a year-long undercover investigation into the couple and their friends that combed evidence stretching back to 2003. Wildlife officials say the Fosters routinely harvested more than their hunting tags allowed, or allowed out-of-state visitors to shoot deer using their tags.

“Given the volume of game animals and fish unlawfully taken, this is a fairly serious matter,” said Jim Kropp, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks top law enforcement official.

The Fosters could not be reached for comment Wednesday, and their lawyer, David Vicevich of Butte, declined to comment.

Bill Foster is charged with six counts of felony possession of game animals, one count of felony tampering with evidence, three counts of misdemeanor unlawful possession of game animals, and one count of misdemeanor unlawful possession of game fish.

Sally Foster is charged with six counts of felony possession of game animals, three counts of misdemeanor unlawful possession of game animals, one count of misdemeanor unlawful possession of game fish, and one count of misdemeanor fishing without a license.

The Fosters possessed 23 illegally harvested deer and elk since 2007, wildlife officials said, and are charged with other misdemeanors for deer poached before 2007.

The couple could face jail time, fines and a loss of hunting privileges. Kropp said Montana is one of the few states that will send people to prison for poaching, and that the state takes poaching seriously.

“In Montana there’s a lot of public resources,” Kropp said. “It’s a destination station for people who want to hunt.”

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An affidavit filed in the Dillon district court showed that Bill Foster bragged to undercover agents about some of the poaching, telling one agent “this’ll get a guy in trouble” while showing a photo of approximately 15 rainbow trout on a counter top. Later in the document, he bragged about illegally killing a spike bull elk.

Bill Foster is also charged with one count of felony tampering with evidence, stemming from an incident Nov. 24, 2012, when investigators were searching the Foster residence in Dillon. Officials say he removed a memory card that contained hunting photos from a camera. After being asked by investigators to furnish the card, he told the wardens he had flushed the memory card down the toilet because it contained nude pictures of a female neighbor. He later admitted he actually hid the memory card in a roll of toilet paper.

Others charged with various misdemeanor game violations in connection with the Fosters include Daniel Foster of Fort Worth, Texas; his wife, Kimberly, also of Fort Worth; William “Billy” Foster, of Pittsburgh, Kan.; Pelham “Monty” Turner, of Superior; Brett Messer of Argonia, Kan.; Mary Krystine Messer, his wife, also of Argonia; Stephen Skinner, of Helena; Jeff Lindeman, of Kelso, Wash.; Richard Lindeman, of Kelso, Wash.; Daniel Townsend, of Vancouver, Wash.; Irvin Sheriff, of Maple, Wash.; William Sheriff, of Maple, Wash.; Tyson Lindeman, of Kelso, Wash.; William Keene, of Poulsbo, Wash.; and James Southam, of Dillon.

Fines and restitution required of these people tops $20,000 as well as loss of hunting, fishing and trapping privileges in some cases for two years.

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