A Georgia man was fined “the largest sum of money ordered of an individual to pay for a wildlife crime in the United States.”
A fine of $1.6 million, hundreds of hours of community service, house arrests and actual prison time suggests that courts are not fooling around anymore concerning wildlife crime.
In March of last year Donald W. Wainwright Sr. and his son, Donald W. Wainwright Jr., were indicted in U.S. District Court in Columbus, Ohio, on charges of conspiracy, fraud and the illegal transport of whitetail deer from Ohio to Georgia and Florida. The Wainwrights plead guilty to the charges.
In May of this year, Benjamin N. Chason plead guilty and was sentenced in the same court for three charges of violating the Lacey Act. The charges brought against Chason were in connection with those levied against the Wainwrights concerning the illegal transport of whitetail deer.
The Lacey Act prohibits trade in wildlife and/or flora that have been illegally “taken, possessed, transported, or sold.”
The sentences for the three men were unsealed earlier this week.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of Ohio, released a statement on Tuesday revealing the charges and specific sentences for each defendant as follows:
Benjamin N. Chason, 61, of Climax, Ga. pleaded guilty and was sentenced in U.S. District Court for three charges related to violating the Lacey Act. Chason was ordered to pay $1.6 million in fines and restitution, the largest sum of money ordered of an individual to pay for a wildlife crime in the United States.
Besides being ordered to pay restitution, Chason was sentenced to three years of probation and four months of home confinement. Chason also agreed to publish a statement in North American Whitetail Magazine and perform 150 hours community service in an Ohio or Georgia State Park.
Wainwright Sr. pleaded guilty on February 27, 2015, to 12 charges related to violating the Lacey Act, one count of conspiracy and one count of wire fraud. He was sentenced to 21 months in prison, a $125,000 fine 200 hours of community service to be served in a parks system and ordered to publish an article in The Deer Breeders Gazette.
Wainwright Jr. pleaded guilty on February 17, 2015, to eight charges related to offering illegal hunts in violation the Lacey Act and was sentenced to four months of house arrest and three years of probation.
At his sentencing, an emotional Wainwright Sr. told the judge that he took full responsibility for his actions.
Our church teaches us to be better than this. Life has been hell the last six years.
Chason’s $1.6 million fine has already been paid.
The condensed version of the charges brought against the three co-conspirators indicates that the men transported and sold uncertified—that is, potentially diseased deer—across state lines.
They also intentionally marked uncertified live deer with federal identification tags from certified deer that had died. They then sold the semen and breeding services of the falsely certified deer to unsuspecting deer breeders around the country.
The deer were being transported from Ohio to game preserves owned by Wainwright in Florida and Georgia. Many of the deer were to be introduced into the preserves as high-fence hunting opportunities for paying customers.
The legality of high-fence hunting was not in question in this case—it is a legal activity—but rather that the deer being introduced into the preserves be certified and disease-free. In this case, however, Wainwright also did not possess a hunting preserve license.
Federal law demands that deer being transported be certified against chronic wasting disease, tuberculosis and brucellosis. Tuberculosis and brucellosis are transferrable to humans, while CWD is transferrable to other deer and cervid populations.
Essentially, the three men not only put other people in danger of disease, but also potentially infected more deer in other states and, by extension, the economies of those states and the livelihoods of many more people.
Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Michael Marous confirmed that the spread of CWD could be “devastating” for the deer hunting industry on many levels. “Everybody is taking this issue very, very seriously,” he said.
Chason’s $1.6 million fine is to be divvied out between several agencies involved with the case.
$600,000 will be paid to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Habitat Fund. $200,000 will go to the Federal Endangered Species and Wildlife Diversity Fund. $400,000 to Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks. And $100,000 to the Ohio DNR Division of Wildlife Turn in a Poacher (TIP) program.
The investigation saw several state and federal agencies working together on the indictments.
Edward Grace, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Assistant Director for Law Enforcement, confirmed,
We are pleased to see the positive results in this investigation. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement considers the potential spread of disease caused by the illegal commercialization of fish and wildlife resources a high priority, and we will continue to work closely with our State partners to assist them in these important investigations.
The investigation into a case that produced the largest fine in U.S. wildlife crime history—1.6 million dollars—began six years ago when an Ohio wildlife officer pulled over a cargo trailer on I-71 South, after noticing deer noses and antlers visible inside the trailer. The vehicle was headed for Georgia, filled with uncertified, potentially diseased whitetail deer.
What do you think, are the penalties reasonable and just? Are they too severe or not enough?