Monday, August 22, 2011

No South Carolina, Federal charges against S.C. wildlife officer in Wright matter

South Carolina does not intend to go after one of its own who is at the apex of the incident that saw federal charges being brought against an Ohio Division of Wildlife agent.

An official with that state’s Department of Natural Resources says that wildlife officer Eric Vaughn will not face federal charges either, unlike Allan Wright, the former Ohio Division of Wildlife officer assigned to Brown County.

In 2006 Wright allowed Vaughn to use his address in order to obtain a resident Ohio hunting license. Vaughn subsequently shot three deer which were tagged by Wright and then taken back home to South Carolina by Vaughn

Vaughn told investigators that Wright informed him that Ohio Division of Wildlife policy allowed such transactions for out-of-state wildlife officers.

In a follow-up to the matter Wright was indicted in federal court last week with felony and two misdemeanor counts for violations of the Lacey Act. He has been placed on unpaid administrative leave, and may still be under investigation by a special prosecutor assigned to the job by the Brown County prosecutor.

Subsequently, the entire issue has swelled to include state felony charges being brought against five former and current Wildlife Division officials. Their cases are pending a ruling by the Ohio 12th District Court of Appeals.

As for Vaughn, South Carolina delved into its own investigation and concluded the wildlife officer had “acted in good faith” when he was led to believe that he could buy an Ohio resident hunting license instead of a non-resident one that shaved off $106.

“We looked into it and actually interviewed Allan Wright,” said Col. Alvin Taylor of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Law Enforcement.
Taylor said that Vaughn “cooperated 100-percent in the investigation” that concluded he had done nothing wrong nor attempted to get out of a buying the appropriate license.

“He (Vaughn) has paid dearly and we’ve put him through the wringer,” Taylor said. “There is no doubt in my mind that he (Vaughn) thought he was within the guidelines of Ohio. He has a spotless record.”

Taylor said also that in subsequent hunting trips to Ohio, Vaughn was instructed by Wright that the policy had changed, which meant that Vaughn had to purchase the more expensive non-resident hunting license.

But the bottom line in the on-going legal matter, says Taylor, is that no South Carolina wildlife charges will be brought against Vaughn.

And any possible federal charges brought against Vaughn are similarly unlikely, Taylor says, who noted that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that Vaughn “did nothing wrong.”

As a result, says Taylor, South Carolina “took this all very seriously and we consider the investigation closed” with the caveat that if additional information surfaces then the case will be reopened.

The ultimate fallout from the incident has led South Carolina to tighten its guidelines for officer conduct while traveling out of state to hunt or fish, Taylor said also.

“They need to double-check the law and look at things differently; do everything above board,” Taylor said. “We have to be held to a higher standard.”

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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