A Michigan man may be on the hook for $59,500 after allegedly poaching nine trophy bucks in Van Buren County. Justin Ernst faces 15 charges related to illegally shining and shooting the animals and illegal possession of firearms.

Domestic Violence Charges Put DNR Officers on His Trail

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources received a tip from the Michigan State Police who were investigating Ernst's involvement in a domestic violence situation. Officers spotted several deer in a barn where Ernst reportedly spent a lot of his time.

Lt. Gerald Thayer of the DNR's Law Enforcement Division says Ernst's actions hurt other hunters and steal from the environment.

"It's a shame that this criminal ruined the chance for ethical, legal hunters to have their opportunity to take one of these trophy deer," Thayer said. "Not only did this felon steal from the natural resource, he also damaged agriculture crops, and has been doing so for some time. The financial penalty is the minimum he should serve."

There are 15 ounts ending against Ernst:

  • Two counts of firearm possession by a felon.
  • Two felony firearms violations.
  • One count of hunting with a revoked hunting license.
  • One count of applying for, or obtaining, a hunting license when ineligible.
  • Nine counts of taking game illegally.

Long History of Illegal Activity

The 33-year-old from Decatur, Michigan has a prior conviction from 2018 for illegally taking or possessing whitetail deer. He's also faced felony charges for possession of methamphetamine or ecstasy, third-degree fleeing a police officer, and multiple charges related to drinking and driving.

If convicted, Ernst could have to pay up to $59,500 in reimbursements to the state. He's currently out on bond and scheduled to appear in court on December 20.

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