Wednesday, August 17, 2011

State wildlife officer indicted for alleged federal wildlife law violations

Allan Wright, the central figure in a case surrounding past and present top officials with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, has been named in a four-count federal indictment.

The indictment was released Wednesday afternoon and implicates Wright - a state wildlife officer - with alleged violations of federal wildlife laws. The text of an Ohio Department of Natural Resources' press release is included with this blog posting.

Though state charges were dropped against Wright last year, a special prosecutor was named and who indicated he wanted to perform his own independent investigation of alleged Wildlife Division matters.

Meanwhile, five current or former Wildlife Division officials have been charged in Brown County Court with two felony counts each and related to their actions as they relate to disciplining Wright. It was Wright who once allowed a South Carolina wildlife officer to use his address in order to obtain a resident hunting license.

However, the legal wrangling regarding the five Wildlife Division officials continues with a ruling from the Ohio 12th District Court of Appeals still pending.

The issue before the justices revolves around a particular point of law that is being disputed between the defense and the Brown County prosecutor. The defense won the first round in Brown County Common Pleas Court and now the question has been taken up by the appellate court.

Here is the full text of the Natural Resources Department's press release related to Wright's federal indictment:


August 17, 2011

Ohio Wildlife Officer Charged With Federal Lacey Act Crimes

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) today obtained a four-count indictment from a federal grand jury in Cincinnati charging Allan Wright, a state wildlife officer in southwest Ohio, with trafficking in and making false records for illegally harvested white-tailed deer in violation of federal law.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) and its Division of Wildlife willingly cooperated in the investigation, providing documents and other information as it was requested by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the DOJ.

Wright will be placed on immediate unpaid administrative leave and required to return all state property in his possession, according to ODNR.

The Lacey Act makes it a crime for a person to knowingly transport or sell wildlife in interstate commerce when the wildlife was taken or possessed in violation of state law. The Lacey Act also makes it a crime for a person to knowingly make or submit a false record, account or label for wildlife which has been transported in interstate commerce.

The indictment charges that Wright knowingly sold and provided an Ohio resident hunting license to a South Carolina resident during the 2006 white-tailed deer season. According to the indictment, Wright falsely entered an Ohio address for the hunter in order to obtain a resident license. Ohio law makes it a crime to procure a hunting license by fraud, deceit, misrepresentation or any false statement. Ohio law also makes it a crime to hunt without a valid hunting license. The indictment charges that the hunter killed three white-tailed deer using the illegal license. Wright personally “checked in” the three deer, again providing the fraudulent Ohio address. The hunter then transported the deer back to South Carolina.

Additionally, the indictment alleges that Wright, using his authority as a wildlife officer, seized white-tailed deer antlers from a hunter who had killed a deer illegally during the 2009 white-tailed deer season. The indictment alleges that, rather than dispose of the antlers through court proceedings, Wright caused the antlers to be transported to another individual in Michigan. The indictment charges that Wright then filed an official state form which falsely reported that he had personally destroyed the antlers.

Two of the four counts charged in the indictment are felonies punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine per count. The remaining two counts are misdemeanors punishable by up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine per count.

An indictment is merely an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The case is being investigated by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement. The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney James B. Nelson of the Department of Justice’s Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Further developments are expected and will be added as they become available.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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