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DNA Analysis Key to First Conviction Related to Wildlife Crime Investigation
02/16/2010
Lieutenant Randy Scorby
East Region Headquarters
OSP Fish & Wildlife Division
Office: (541) 523-5848 ext. 4070

The efforts of numerous sportsman groups' paid off with the conviction of four suspects in a Wallowa County case where DNA results were a critical component of an Oregon State Police (OSP) Fish and Wildlife Division investigation. Normally known as a valuable investigative tool helping to identify and convict suspects in criminal cases, this is the first conviction in a case where the DNA results helped prosecute Oregon wildlife violators.
 
Three of the four suspects convicted in Wallowa County Circuit Court are from Oregon. The fourth suspect is a Ridgefield, Washington resident. They are identified as:
 
George Chechelnitski, age 53, from Ridgefield, Washington, who pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of Taking Elk without a Valid Tag. Sentencing included:
* Two year Hunting Suspension
* Two years probation
* $2108.00 in fines and fees
 
Aleksandr Katko, age 53, from Gresham, Oregon, who pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of Aiding in a Violation of Wildlife Laws. Sentencing included:
* Two year Hunting Suspension
* Two years probation
* $2008.00 in fines and fees
 
Vadim Titoukh, age 44, from Boring, Oregon, who pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of Aiding in a Violation of Wildlife Laws. Sentencing included:
* Two year Hunting Suspension
* Two years probation
* $2143.00 in fines and fees
 
Vasiliy Pitsul, age 48, from Portland, Oregon, who pled guilty to a violation charge of Aiding in a Violation of Wildlife Laws. Sentencing included:
* Two year Hunting Suspension
* $1208.00 in fines and fees
 
The OSP Fish & Wildlife Division had been researching new ways to help a trooper investigating an illegal big horn sheep killing and met with the Oregon Federation for North American Wild Sheep (FNAWS). When the FNAWS organization asked how they could help, DNA analysis support was seen as an answer.
 
FNAWS and Oregon Hunters Association (OHA) presented a proposal for a two-year pilot project to evaluate the needs and effectiveness of a DNA program to user organizations. These organizations raised $25,000 to fund a pilot project in partnership with OSP and Idaho Fish and Game (IDFG). IDFG is home to a premier, cutting-edge wildlife forensic program that offers a full-service biological testing program, including DNA services (species comparison, gender determination, individual identification, and time/cause of death).
 
On November 7th, 2007, Oregon State Police Senior Trooper Mark Knapp of the received information regarding an elk that was illegally killed in the Chesnimnus Big Game Unit in Wallowa County. A subsequent investigation determined that on November 3, 2007, the opening morning of the Chesnimnus Elk Season, the group of four hunters had harvested two spike elk. It was later determined that only one of the hunters possessed a valid elk tag for that unit. In addition, parts of the second illegally killed elk were left behind and some of the elk meat was wasted. Numerous evidentiary items were seized at the crime scene.
 
With the assistance of several individuals who had been hunting in the area, the Oregon State Police was ultimately able to identify the four suspects. Interviews were later conducted, one search warrant was executed and additional evidence was seized. Some of the seized evidence from the scene and the residences of two suspects were analyzed at the Oregon State Police Forensic Crime Lab in Springfield, Oregon.
 
A critical part of the investigation also involved DNA analysis conducted by Dr. Karen Rudolph of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Wildlife Forensic Program in Caldwell, Idaho. The analysis was done on evidence seized from the scene and during the execution of the search warrant. A positive match on the DNA of the illegally taken elk was made. The results of the forensic evidence from the labs in Oregon and Idaho helped lead to the arrest and ultimate conviction of the four suspects in the Wallowa County Circuit Court.