Monday, April 5, 2010

(Updated) Brown County prosecutor defends charges against state wildlife officials

Brown County prosecutor Jessica A. Little says she is sworn to uphold the law, requiring her to seek grand jury indictments against several top Ohio Division of Wildlife officials.

Among those charged with criminal offenses were Wildlife Division chief David Graham, assistant Wildlife Division chief Randy Miller, Wildlife Division law enforcement administrator James Lehman, Wildlife District 5 (southwest Ohio) director Todd Haines and the agency’s human resource manager Michelle Ward-Tackett.

Each has been charged with one count of obstructing justice and one count of complicity to obstructing justice. These are fifth-degree felonies and which can result in up to 12 months in prison, a fine of up to $2,500, or both.

Also charged is Allan Wright, the state wildlife officer assigned to Brown County. He is charged with two counts of tampering with records (third-degree felonies) and one count of falsification for allegedly altering official Natural Resources records (a first-degree misdemeanor).

The felony charges' potential liability is up to 5 years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both while the misdemeanor charge carries a liability of up to 6 months in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

All six defendants were processed about 1 p.m., Monday through the Brown County Sheriff’s office. Following arraignment in the Brown County Common Pleas Court the six Wildlife Division officials were released on bond, a Brown County Sheriff’s sergeant said.

While the full scope of the indictments are still being reviewed by Ohio Department of Natural Resources officials, what is known is that the indictments were issued late Thursday, said Mike Shelton, spokesman for the Natural Resources Department as well as Little.

Shelton said the indictments stem from an alleged incident in which Wright was said to have allowed South Carolina wildlife officer Eric Vaughn to use his Ohio address in order to obtain an Ohio hunting license on Nov. 5, 2006.

On page 3 of the 17-page Inspector General’s report the following was noted: “Allegation 1: Ohio Wildlife Officer Allan Wright assisted a South Carolina Wildlife Officer, Eric Vaughn, in obtaining an Ohio resident hunting license. Officer Wright also checked in three deer killed by Wright and knowingly recorded a false address for Vaughn,” followed on page 5 after a detailed look into the allegations that “Accordingly, we find reasonable cause to believe a wrongful act or omission occurred in this instance.”

The report noted also that on Sept. 30, 2009 the Office of the Inspector General “received a complaint from a confidential informant alleging criminal activity” on the part of Wright and “the failure of the (Wildlife) Division to investigate the matter,” signed by the agency’s head Thomas P. Charles who said in a Monday telephone interview that the document is public record.

Little said her efforts to seek indictments is derived from the Inspector General’s report which was a “very good, thorough investigation.”

Little said also that Wildlife Division officials needed to investigate Wright’s alleged activities as criminal in nature and not as an administrative issue.

“Therein lies the problem,” Little said.
“This is not the crime of the century but the law must be respected whether you’re an official or not.”

A possibility exists that the charges may be plea-bargained down, Little said also.

“I never say never. We do plea bargain and it is something that we always consider (but) I’m not anxious that we do this here. It’s a very good case. The whole reason for our case is based on the Inspector General’s report,” Little said.

Shelton said the Natural Resources Department is keeping an eye on the matter and that no decision has been made as to whether any of those charged will be placed on administrative leave.

A message was left on Graham’s home telephone over the weekend seeking comment.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

1 comment:

  1. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, but this looks like good, solid reporting on Jeff Frischknorn's part.