The Ohio Department of Natural Resources closes the adjudication phase of the largest case in history of Ohio Division of Wildlife.
According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the agency's Division of Wildlife has closed what's turned out to be the largest case in the division's 146-year history.
Operation North Coast case primarily revolved around the illegal taking and sale of Lake Erie sportfish and whitetail deer meat products in Lake Erie-area counties. The ODNR Division of Wildlife has never worked so long, gathered so much evidence, traveled so many miles, or encountered such a rampant collection of illegally-taken wild animals in a case prior to this one.
The process consisted of officers and officials reviewing "thousands of documents, conducted nearly 200 interviews, executed additional search warrants, examined hundreds of digital and physical evidence items that were seized and attended approximately 100 court hearings."
The items confiscated included one vehicle, 96 deer and turkey mounts, 35 sets of antlers, over 200 pounds of filleted sportfish, and 400 pounds of de-boned venison and processed deer meat.
Ever since the takedown in 2016, investigators spent two and a half years in court hearings in Cuyahoga, Lorain, Lucas, Richland, Ottawa, and Wood counties. Likewise, the courts charged nine defendants with "engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity and associated crimes for operating as a criminal enterprise."
Members of the group charged oftentimes took deer illegally or created false harvest reports by placing the deer under other people's name. Similarly, they "laundered" venison into meat sticks or "smokies" through secretive meat processing and sold and bartered them for taxidermy favors and other services. The felony sale of venison and fish fillets popped up on several individuals' charge lists.
A few of the defendants forced family members and friends to falsify harvest records. Thus, they committed fraud on the ODNR wildlife check system claiming they killed the deer. There was blatant disrespect of bag limits and charges of hunting without permission.
Two group members were charged with theft by deception after winning a walleye tournament on the Maumee River with fish actually caught on Lake Erie. Matthew Langlois of Waterville and Lawrence "Andy" Turner of Toledo had to reimburse Maumee River Bait and Tackle for the prize money.
One of the defendants paid $40,000 in restitution after plea agreements were reached. He lost his hunting privileges for seven years, forfeited a truck and 44 of the 54 seized mounts. Another, Mandon Freeworth of Grand Rapids, was charged with 16 counts including discharging a firearm from a motor vehicle, one of 10 felonies that are on his record.
All told, the state charged 46 defendants with 91 felonies and 73 misdemeanors. That totaled a combined $131,763 in fines and restitution, with a combined jail sentence of 8.6 years. There were a total of 79 years of hunting and fishing rights revoked and more than $18,000 in court costs.
Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor James Guitierrez was on record calling the group "racketeers in camouflage."
The case is extensive, and to read more about it you can go to the ODNR's website here.
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