A Colorado man pleaded guilty Friday to exploiting the Badger Creek Fire to burglarize evacuated homes in the area of Woods Landing and Jelm Mountain.
Jayce Peterson, 35, pleaded guilty to burglary,“accessory before the fact — burglary,” and theft.
Peterson took an “open plea,” meaning there’s no agreement between his attorney and prosecutors on what his sentence will be.
Albany County district court judge Tori Kricken will have free rein on deciding whether Peterson will receive prison time.
The defendant was released on bond in October, and on Friday, Kricken urged him to continue staying compliant with the terms of his bond pending sentencing.
“Keep in mind that how you’re doing now will be a pretty good indication of how you’d do on something like probation,” Kricken said.
Peterson was originally charged with aggravated burglary, which would have carried a mandatory minimum sentence of five years imprisonment for a conviction. However, prosecutors agreed to drop that charge as part of Peterson’s plea deal.
Subdivisions at Woods Landing and Jelm Mountain were evacuated between June 11-18 amid the forest fire.
When one resident returned to his house on June 17, he reported a firearm had been stolen.
Another homeowner and business reported burglaries, as well. In total, it was determined that U.S. currency, several firearms, jewelry, personal items and an ATV were stolen from evacuated property.
On June 28, Albany County Undersheriff Josh DeBree received a call from LeadsOnline, a technology service that reports suspicious transactions to police.
LeadsOnline reported one of the guns was pawned by Peterson in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.
Using an FBI offline search, it was determined that Peterson’s vehicle had been marked as abandoned by the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office near the state line of Wyoming Highway 10 during the evacuation time-frame.
A Jackson County sheriff’s deputy had contacted Peterson in his vehicle on Wyoming Highway 230, near the west side of the evacuation area during the same time-frame.
A warrant for Peterson’s arrest was issued and he was eventually arrested and extradited back to Albany County.
Peterson admitted his involvement in the burglaries, according to the Albany County Sheriff’s Office.
He also identified the location of the stolen ATV, which was later recovered and returned to the rightful owners.