Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Six Wildlife Division officials placed on paid administrative leave

Sean D. Logan, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, announced this afternoon that six Ohio Division of Wildlife officials charged with various felony counts in Brown County will be placed on paid administrative leave, beginning at midnight.

At issue is an alleged incident in which Allan Wright – state wildlife officer assigned to Brown County - allowed South Carolina wildlife officer Eric Vaughn to use his Ohio address in order to obtain an Ohio hunting license on Nov. 5, 2006.

Wright 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).

Also charged with one count of obstructing justice and one count of complicity to obstructing justice 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 resources manager Michelle Ward-Tackett. These are fifth-degree felonies.

It is alleged that these officials should have handled the Wright case differently and investigated it as a criminal matter and not as an administrative matter that resulted in a verbal reprimand for Wright.

A subsequent four-month-long investigation by the Ohio Inspector General pointed to irregularities in how the matter was handled.

The paid administrative leave status will apply until the matter is settled in Brown County Common Pleas Court, said Natural Resources Department spokesman Mike Shelton.

"We are reorgainzing who is to take over the various duties," Shelton said.

Assistant Wildlife Division chief James Marshall will assume the role of interim agency chief until his long-planned retirement begins May 1, Shelton said also.

"If (the cases) go beyond that we'll have to identify a longer-term individual," Shelton said.

Under such a paid administrative leave process both Wright and Lehman must turn over their service weapons, Shelton said as well.

Each defendant must pay for their own legal fees, Shelton said.

However, the defendants can still possess a firearm for hunting, including for the up-coming spring wild turkey-hunting season, clarified Lake County prosecutor Charles E. Coulson when asked for a point-of-law answer to the subject.

That is because the charges do not involve drugs or violence nor are the defendants fugitives from justice.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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