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Hunters found trespassing on privately-owned Robins Island leads to discovery of extensive operation

Extensive hunting and surveillance equipment recently discovered on Robins Island, a privately owned nature preserve owned by billionaire Louis Bacon, could be linked to a commercial hunting operation.

The discovery came after two men were cited for trespassing and hunting violations on the property last Wednesday.

Peter Talty, vice president of Belvedere Property Management LLC, called the discovered equipment “disturbing.” He speculated it could be linked to a commercial hunting operation — Robins Island is home to several prize deer, including a number of albinos — but he’s not sure why such extensive gear was set up on the island.

“Obviously, most of this is directed toward a game infraction,” Mr. Talty said in an interview Monday. “But they were getting close to residential properties, too. So we don’t know what this is right now. It could, in fact, be something about home invasion and personal safety here … It could be a bunch of things. This was sophisticated and thought out.”

He added that “it’s speculative on our side as far as how long they have been here,” but Robins Island staff suspect “there has been a presence here for an extended period of time,” although maybe not continually.

Scott Russell of Bethel, Conn. and Curt Jorgensen of Beacon, N.Y. were found trespassing on the private island last Wednesday, according to a Southold Town police report. Mr. Talty said they were equipped with camouflage gear and powerful hunting bows near a bedding area for deer and buildings on site.

Staff was alerted to something unusual when an employee stumbled across a game camera capable of communicating with a cell phone secured to a tree last week, he said. 

“[The employee is] also a hunter and he started thinking in terms of ‘OK, how would I do this,’ and then came upon a low area on the west side of Robins and found a boat, a small 12-foot aluminum boat, several duffel bags with gear, and obviously the presence of people,” he said. 

The employee led two other staff members into the woods to investigate further. He was carrying a shotgun, which Mr. Talty said he fired into the air to alert the other staff after encountering an individual coming down from a tree stand and another lying prone on the ground, both with compound bows in hand.

The staff proceeded to notify Town of Southold police and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, according to Mr. Talty. 

In addition to extensive hunting equipment, Robins Island staff have uncovered seven numbered cameras on the property so far — more than the trespassers indicated were on the island, Mr. Talty said. 

“The numbers are not in sequence, so that right there gets me nervous,” he said. Staff are concerned there could be more cameras on the island.

The cameras are capable of capturing video, audio and still photos. The chips have been taken by the DEC.

Staff have since also uncovered a tent, five tree stands, provisions, camouflage netting, two 45-pound weights with chains and two bow and quiver sets with missing arrows, among other things. 

An overhead view of the equipment that has been collected. (Credit: Brianne Ledda)

“It’s premeditated. It’s comprehensive. And it is a long term commitment to this location,” Mr. Talty said, adding that the equipment seemed geared toward stealth.

In an interview Monday, Southold Town police chief Martin Flatley said the department was initially called by security guards employed on Robins Island who found two people trespassing on the island and suspected they were poaching deer. 

“They had equipment,” Chief Flatley said. “A lot of pretty sophisticated hunting equipment, cameras and other gear.”

Southold Bay Constables responded alongside a DEC officer also on duty. The DEC issued tickets to both men for trespassing and not possessing a hunting license or tags. The pair are due in Southold Town Justice Court on Dec. 1.

One of the men told police that a security guard had threatened them. A police report filed last Wednesday notes the pair provided police with written statements claiming they were approached by a man, later identified as Troy Muller of Cutchogue, who became irate and stated “I’m going to kill you” and “I’m going to bury you on this island and no one will find you,” before firing a shotgun into the air.

“From the best we can tell, when security confronted them, one security guard fired off a shotgun that he had with them in the air. We’re investigating whether it was meant to threaten the two people or if it was a warning shot that was sent off. We’re reviewing it with the District Attorney’s office right now,” Chief Flatley said. 

No charges have been filed yet against the employee. “That hasn’t been determined yet,” Chief Flatley said. 

Daniel Rodgers, a lawyer representing Mr. Bacon, said the employee “went above and beyond the call of duty and took extraordinary risk.” He didn’t do anything wrong and was in a “frightening situation,” he added.

“He was just an employee doing his job, and that’s protecting the animals on this property. These guys are not here to go after armed intruders and people with sophisticated equipment,” he said. “If this does result in charges against the employee of the island, we intend to vigorously defend that case, and he will be fully exonerated.”

The 434-acre island is within the jurisdiction of the Southold Town police department. Signs are posted warning outsiders that it’s off-limits.

“Every once in a while, somebody will trespass on the island, mostly during summer months when people are boating more and landing on the island. But everyone pretty much knows that it’s a private island,” Chief Flatley said. 

Robins Island is working with the district attorney’s office. Staff on the island plan to continue searching for cameras and other equipment.

Mr. Bacon purchased Robins Island in bankruptcy court in 1993 for $11 million, according to a New York Post article published about the island in July.