News » True Crime

He's a Cold-Hearted Snake ... Collector


A Star man has been sentenced for being the crawling kingsnake of the local herpological underworld. Three of his underlings were also sentenced for their roles, and a fourth could face charges.

Russell "Russ" Jones, 36, has been a thriving reptile harvester in Idaho for nearly as long as the life span as many of his, uh, pets (do 180 snakes of varying toxicity really qualify as "pets?"). According to an Idaho Fish and Game release, Jones had already been convicted in 1998 of illegally collecting and possessing a variety of reptiles, including endangered desert tortoises, rattlesnakes and Gila Monsters collected in Arizona. Following a 2004 tip called in to the Citizens Against Poaching hot line run by Idaho Fish and Game, investigators found Jones up to his old tricks. This time, they waited until he was in jail on unrelated charges to strike before seizing his snakes while they were being stored at other residences. Among Jones' beauties this time were a rare Mojave green rattlesnake, sidewinder and great basin rattle snakes, a Utah mountain kingsnake and a number of rubber boas and collared lizards. Of course, neither Jones nor his caresnakers had permits to own or collect the species that had been imported from other states.

All told, Jones faced 238 charges, 60 of which were felonies. In a plea agreement signed this August, he pleaded guilty to only five misdemeanors: importing 38 snakes into Idaho without a permit, aiding and abetting in the possession of 43 snakes without a license, illegally selling 66 snakes and lizards from Idaho, Nevada and Arizona, possessing the Utah Mountain Kingsnake that had been unlawfully collected in Nevada and aiding/abetting in the possession of 41 venomous snakes being kept in unlawful cages.

For his transgressions, Jones will be caged for 90 days, to be served concurrent with a recent sentence he received for domestic battery. After shedding his orange skin, Jones' additional penalties will include $5,400 in fines, $1,338 in restitution to Idaho Fish and Game, two years of unsupervised probation and--gasp!--a lifetime hunting and fishing license revocation. He's won't be allowed to possess one measly reptile for two years, or even be in the company of anyone with snakes. But that license revocation is the real venom: It means he'll never be allowed to collect reptiles from the wild, period, from this day forward until either Jones or the United States government topples (either one will be lucky to last the lifespan of a typical desert tortoise, like the ones Jones was convicted of owning in 1998).