Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Brown County Five appeal to State Supremes

With documents filed Monday the five indicted current and retired Ohio Division of Wildlife officials are asking the State Supreme Court to aid in their cause, rebuffing a decision rendered by the Ohio 12th District Court of Appeals.

That decision came about by an appeal made by Jessica A. Little, prosecutor for Brown County, after she had earlier lost a decision rendered by Brown County Common Pleas Court Judge Scott Gusweiler.

At issue is the so-called Garrity Rule, which broadly protects at least some government employees from testifying before an administrative investigation if the individual fears that his or her job is at stake by not answering.

The five plaintiffs - now-retired Wildlife Division chief David Graham, now-retired assistant chief Randy Miller, now-retired agency law enforcement administrator James Lehman, and current Wildlife Division human resource manager Michele Ward-Tackett, and Wildlife District Five (southwest Ohio) manager Todd Haines - claim in the documents prepared by their attorneys that, yes, Garrity applies to them just as it did for former state wildlife officer Allan Wright.

Wright pleaded guilty last week in federal court to four criminal charges related to violations of the Lacey Act. 

In the filed document’s table of contents  the plaintiff’s attorneys argue that:

n “Any public employee compelled by threat of job termination to participate in an investigation by the Ohio Inspector General must be afforded that employee’s constitutional rights against self incrimination establish by Garrity v. New Jersey.”

n “The failure or refusal to provide a public employee Garrity warnings by an agency conducting an administrative investigation does not obviate a public employee’s Fifth Amendment rights established by Garrity, those rights are self-executing.”

n “When considering a motion to suppress, a trial court is in the best position to resolve factual questions and evaluate the credibility of the witnesses.”

It remains Little’s position that Garrity does not apply to higher ups in the chain of command, including those who lead the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

Thus, Little believes, the Garrity Rule is an unique legal signature that while applicable to Wright is not intended to likewise nest the other five current and retired officials.

Little has also long expressed the view that regardless of which party was championed in the appellate court the matter of Garrity’s application ultimately would end up before the state Supreme Court's seven justices.

“I’m not surprised by it,” Little said of the most recent appeal. “I will file a memorandum opposing their jurisdiction.”

Little also said the State Supreme Court has its own docket to deal with so the wheels of decision-making will probably grind slowly. That is true even if the 12th District Court of Appeals does certify a conflict, which then would put the matter squarely in the laps of  the State Supreme Court.

However, if the 12 District Court of Appeals does not certify a conflict then the State Supreme Court will take it only on what is called a “discretionary appeal,” Little said.

“So the State Supreme Court may or may not take i at all,” Little said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see that it
goes before the State Supreme Court."

Also, a pretrial hearing that was scheduled for March 12 in Brown County Common Pleas Court is still on tap, Little says.

“I really don’t know what will be accomplished, though,” Little said.

Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

Monday, February 27, 2012

Brown County prosecutor praises Wright for pleading guilty

Jessica A. Little, Brown County prosecutor, is praising former Ohio Division of Wildlife officer Allan Wright for pleading guilty in federal court Friday for violating the federal Lacey Act.

Wright, 45, of Russellville, first came on Little’s radar screen about two years ago following a report from the Ohio Inspector General’s office that then-alleged inappropriate actions were taken by Wright as the state wildlife officer assigned to Brown County.

Wright later admitted to allowing in 2006 a South Carolina wildlife officer to use the former’s home address in order to obtain a resident Ohio hunting license, among other issues.

In turn the entire affair led to charges again five current as well as retired Wildlife Division officials. Their cases remains pending before Little.

State charges against Wright were dropped by a special prosecutor named by Little because the wildlife officer was protected by what’s known as the Garrity Rule. That legal rule protects some government employees from offering testimony if it also threatens their job by speaking.

Wright later was charged by the U.S. Justice Department for two felony and two misdemeanor counts for violating the federal government’s Lacey Act. This law deals with the trafficking and movement across state lines of fish and game that was taken illegally elsewhere.

Last Friday Wright pleaded guilty to the charges. His sentencing before the federal courts is expected to come later this spring.

However, Little said Wright is to be commended for admitting to his guilt.

“When someone takes responsibility for their contact, that is the first step toward rehabilitation and reconciliation,” Little said. “Now he will be able to begin moving forward in a positive manner. When they do that it’s always a good move in putting their past behind them. We always want see the turn-around.”

However, Little refrained from commenting on whether the currently indicted  five Wildlife Division officials - including the agency’s former chief and one assistant chief - should follow Wright’s lead.

The so-called Brown County five has a pre-trial meeting at 1 p.m., March 12.

At this meeting various legal matters will be discussed including any discovery of evidence, when a trial might begin and other legal issues, Little said also.

“Maybe by then we’ll know whether they will make an appeal before the Ohio Supreme Court,” Little said as well.

Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

Friday, February 24, 2012

(LATEST UPDATE) Allan Wright pleads guilty in federal court

Allan Wright, 45, of Russellville and the former state wildlife officer assigned to Brown County, pleaded guilty in United States District Court/Southern District of Ohio today (Friday) to violating the Lacey Act by trafficking in and making false records for illegally harvested white-tailed deer.

The announcement was made this afternoon (Friday) by the U.S. Justice Department.

Newly received court documents say that Wright entered guilty pleas to all four counts.

It is important to note that a felony conviction of a felony count has possible severe consequences for a person who is also a hunter and firearms’ owner. If an individual is convicted of a felony that person cannot own, possess or use a firearm, even for such activities as target shooting, firearms collection, personal protection or hunting.

The Justice Department says in its press release that “Wright committed the Lacey Act crimes while he was employed as a wildlife officer for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.”

The release is available for viewing at:

Former Ohio Wildlife Officer convicted of trafficking in white-tailed deerWright’s employment as a wildlife officer was terminated after he was indicted in August 2011, The Justice Department said.

And as part of his plea agreement, Wright has agreed not to appeal his termination, says the Justice Department as well.

Likewise as part his plea, says the Justice Department, Wright admitted that, using his authority as a wildlife officer, he sold a resident Ohio hunting license to a non-resident hunter in 2006.

“That hunter used the illegal Ohio resident hunting license to kill three white-tailed deer. As part of his plea,

Wright admitted that he ‘checked in’ those deer by providing a false Ohio residence address for the non-resident hunter in order to make it appear that the deer were killed by an Ohio resident.

“After the deer were checked in, the non-resident hunter transported them in interstate commerce from Ohio to South Carolina,” the Justice Department said.

Also as part of his plea, Wright admitted that, “using his authority as a wildlife officer,” he seized white-tailed deer antlers from a hunter who had killed a deer illegally in 2009, the Justice Department said.

“Wright admitted that, rather than disposing of the antlers through court proceedings, as required by Ohio law, he knowingly supplied them to another individual who transported them from Ohio to Michigan,” the Justice Department says.

Another condition of his plea, “Wright admitted that he filed an official state form, which falsely reported that he had personally destroyed those antlers,” the Justice Department said.

The presiding federal judge in the case - Michael Barrett - has ordered a presentencing investigation report. This report is due May 7, court documents say. At that point another court appearance will be required where Wright faces sentencing.

He can receive a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine per count, says the Justice Department.

By way of review, Wright was under indictment for felony and misdemeanor violations of the federal government’s Lacey Act.

Wright agreed to state complaints that in 2006 he allowed a South Carolina wildlife officer to use his Ohio address to obtain a resident state hunting license.

He subsequently was given a written reprimand which was eventually expunged. That action set in legal motion charges being brought against five current or retired Ohio Division of Wildlife officials.

However, Wright had been reinstated to his Wildlife Division post, only to be placed on unpaid administrative leave last August when he was charged in federal court for the alleged Lacey Act infractions.

The matter involving the five current and former Wildlife Division officials remains open before the Brown County Court of Appeals.

In a ruling announced last month by the five-member 12th District Court of Appeals the five felony-indicted officials are not protected by the so-called “Garrity Rule.”

This legal fiat protects certain government employees from testifying on matters if they believe doing so would jeopardize their jobs.

The defendants’ attorneys said the rule applied to their clients, a position accepted by Brown County Common Pleas Court judge Scott Gusweiler.

However, Brown County prosecutor Jessica A. Little took issue with that ruling and appealed Gusweiler’s opinion before the state’s 12th District Court of Appeals.

Little won the legal support of the appellate judges.

Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Wildlife Division explains license issuing sales delay

Prospective anglers (mostly) and even hunters who want to be early birds in getting their 2012-2013 general licenses are finding out that the documents are not yet available.
And won’t be until Thursday, March 1, says the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
Until this year, prospective license buyers could visit an issuing agent and purchase documents for the upcoming license year, starting Feb. 15.
The numbers weren’t huge by any standard, totaling around 7,000 customers who purchased licenses during the February 15 to 28 time frame. Even then, however,  the “vast majority of which were free license holders,” said Korey Brown, the Wildlife Division’s District One supervisor who previously nursed the agency’s licenses-issuing system into being.
“This year, we moved the ‘start sale date’ to March 1,” Brown said.
“Actually, we were doing something that we probably shouldn’t have been doing. But there are more positives than negatives.”
The reasons for the change are two-fold, says Brown.
The first is that neither the old system nor the new system is capable of simultaneously selling licenses for the current year and the upcoming year.
This situation created a serious challenge under the old system because it was difficult and time consuming to download the necessary software updates to the end users, retail license agents, Brown says.
“For this reason, we typically started downloading the software updates in early February to ensure that ‘new’ licenses were available for sale by March 1 as required by law,” Brown says.
“It’s important to note also that although this practice was necessary, we were selling licenses on Feb. 15 that weren’t valid until March 1 and instructing wildlife officers to treat them as valid – again because our system was incapable of selling licenses for the current year and the upcoming year at the same time,” Brown said.
The second reason for the start delay, says Brown is because under the new computerized system the Wildlife Division can control when licenses go on sale in real time.
“And most importantly, we can create business rules designed to help the customer,” Brown said. “In years past, we expended considerable time and resources refunding money to customers who intuitively thought the license year mirrored the calendar year.”
Many prospective license buyers would purchased a license in January or February, assuming it was valid for 12 months when in fact it expired on Feb. 28, Brown says.
Now, the software prohibits a customer from purchasing a hunting or fishing licenses as long as that person already holds a valid license, also says Brown. 
“This change was necessary and largely positive,” Brown says. “We do not deny that some people were accustomed to purchasing licenses early and they are somewhat confused by the change, but we’re confident they will quickly adapt.”
Also related to the 2012-2013 various licenses and tags once they become available they will be printed on blue-colored standard paper stock. That is, if purchased by a license-issuing vendor, such as a bait and tackle store or a sporting goods store.
This is a bit of a change since the Wildlife Division said several months ago that it would have vendors use regular plain paper stock.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lake a leader in approving concealed carry permits

In large numbers Ohioans are targeting the process required to legally obtain a concealed carry firearms license.

Figures compiled and supplied by the Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine point to the steady growth in seeking this documentation which requires fingerprinting, a background check as well as the successful completion of a required 12-hour course that includes a mandatory two-hour range time with a handgun.

The most recent Ohio Attorney General concealed carry statistics reveal that 11,965 permits were issued to applicants during 2011’s forth quarter. That is the greatest number of forth-quarter-issued permits ever awarded during the program’s six-plus years of activity.

Tallying 2011’s other three quarters with that of the forth quarter and a preliminary 49,825 licenses were issued to legally eligible applicants. If these numbers become official they would represent the second highest total number of concealed carry permits issued ever since 2006 when the program began. The most permits ever issued by the state’s 88 county sheriffs was the 56,691 licenses approved in 2009.

The total number of concealed carry permits issued for the program’s other years includes: 18,781 for 2006, 22,103 for 2007, 33,864 for 2008, and 47,337 for 2010. All figures are supplied by the Ohio Attorney General’s office and available for viewing at http://www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/Enforcement/Concealed-Carry.

Thus, more than 265,000 Ohioans are now legally allowed to carry as concealed a handgun. Some experts are projecting that this figure could exceed 300,000 by the end of 2012.

Also, during 2011’s forth quarter the sheriff in Ashtabula County approved just 85 concealed carry permits, Cuyahoga County’s sheriff did the same with 135 concealed carry permits, Geauga County’s sheriff issued 232 concealed carry permits, and the Lorain County sheriff issued 212 concealed carry permits.

Known as an efficient and non-judgmental concealed carry permit-issuing county sheriff is Dan Dunlap. During the forth quarter his permit-dedicated team of deputies issued 428 concealed carry licenses to legally approved applicants. As a result, during the forth quarter, Lake County ranked seventh out of the state's 88 counties in issuing concealed carry permits.

Leading was Franklin County with 978 concealed carry permits granted. And only Jackson County saw no concealed carry permits issued during 2011's forth quarter.

As for concealed carry license suspensions, during the forth quarter Cuyahoga County reported two, Lorain County reported three and Lake County reported 15.

Lake County also denied permits to 17 applicants while Lorain County denied four applicants and Cuyahoga County denied permits to 13 applicants.

“Licenses to carry concealed is an important part of the responsible exercise of our fundamental rights,” Ohio Attorney General DeWine says in the introduction to the official “Concealed Carry Law Manual.”

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

Friday, February 17, 2012

Party with a duel purpose

Tonight's Steelheaders Ball was supposed to be all about raising funds for the Citizens for Lake Metroparks but it really had another, equally important, agenda.

This evening's Steelheaders Ball festivities was also the last dance for Steve Madewell, who in a few short weeks will no longer command the helm of Lake Metroparks as the agency's executive director. He will be taking over as the skipper of the Metro Parks of the Toledo Area early next month.

One of three originators of the Steelheaders Ball, Madewell did everything at the previous events, including being one of its musical entertainers.

Tonight, however, Madewell spent much of his time at Lake Metroparks' Pine Ridge Country Club in Wickiffe visiting with the party's guests, making small talk and saying his good-byes. And while Madewell might not have put it that way, many of the Steelheader Ball's guests understood. They did their best to either ferret Madewell out of a corner or squeeze in for a chance to wish the government official their best.

The turn-out was thinner than some previous Steelheaders' fund-raising parties but for those who did attend the mood was far from somber. Raffles and a silent auction all featured items contributed by donars who not only did so to assist the Citizens group - which uses its money to support future Lake Metroparks levies - but likewise to honor Madewell.

That is why judges of various stripes, civic leaders and hard-core anglers more comfortable in a set of waders than as someone attempting to juggle an over-flowing dinner plate without so much as losing a cherry tomato all rubbed elbows together.

Madewell has earned their respect and admiration and the event's attendees just wanted the opportunity to say so.

And so tonight Madewell made his final appearence at the event, at least likely as one of its organizers, anyway.

Then again, Northeast Ohio can expect to reel Madewell back in.

He and his wife, Mary Jo, will hold on to their home that is nestled along shade-lined Big Creek in Concord Township. It's too nice of a home, too perfect of a spot to walk away from, Mary Jo said.

Thus, Madewell's soon-to-happen departure for the flat farmland of northwestern Ohio is actually only temporary.

Afterall, though Madewell is not a native of Northeast Ohio the outpouring of attendees at this evening's Steelheaders Ball shows that he an adopted son.

Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

Local group makes OSU scholarship donation

Locally based, the Northeast Ohio Walleye Association recently donated $1,000 to The Ohio State University's  Stone Lab at South Bass Island.

The money was designated for student scholarships, the recipients working at Stone Lab. This facility conducts research on a host of Lake Erie-based issues.

It was presented to Frank Litchkoppler, Ohio Sea Grant agent and an Ohio State University professor.

“We hope to make this an annual fund raising effort for Stone Lab, ” said the group's president, Dustin Morgan. “We believe that the research and education conducted at Stone Lab is of great value to Lake Erie sport anglers.”

 To raise the funds the walleye fishing group held a raffle and sold 871 tickets, Morgan also said.

According to Jerry Vest - one of the original founders - the thirty year old sportsman’s association was founded by nine friends who wanted to do something for the walleye fishery and the environment. 

The NEOWA focuses on youth fishing and helping the physically challenged enjoy fishing, said Vest.

Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Possible waterfowling at East Branch Reservoir

There may be duck and goose hunting in East Branch Reservoir’s future.

The Akron Watershed District’s 416-acre reservoir is contained within the Geauga Park District’s 926-acre Headwaters Park in Huntsburg and Claridon townships.

Geauga Park leases the site from the watershed district and provides various recreational opportunities that include fishing and boating.

However, recently the watershed district approached the parks system, asking that the two entities partner if it might be possible to develop a controlled waterfowl hunting program. at East Branch/Headwaters.

On Tuesday the three-person Geauga Park District board of park commissioners was made aware of the contact by the agency’s administrative staff.

“But it is still very much in the planning stages and we really don’t want to say something that makes Akron uncomfortable,” said Sandy Ward, the Geauga Park District’s communications specialist.

Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

Monday, February 6, 2012

UPDATED Close but not close enough on last day of archery deer season

Only one hour remained in a season that had spanned 3,240 hours.

And the end seemed nearly an eternity when Ohio’s lengthy archery deer-hunting season began 30 minutes before sunrise on September 24. But now only 60 minutes was left to the archery season; not much time to fill my remaining either-sex tag.

Still, I wanted to end the season the way I had when it began, anchoring a spot in one of my fabric ground blinds just the way I did way back at the end of September.

It almost paid off, too. Almost, but note quite.

With a choice to make between three blinds, each found in a different county, I selected the one in Ashtabula County’s Rome Township. It was not a bad choice, though certainly not a perfect one.

Then again, neither were the blinds/electronic feeder stations in Lake and Geauga counties. With the former my trail camera had captured about 600 digital images over a 3 1/2-week span. None had a recorded even a single deer, which was especially peculiar and terribly disappointing.

Earlier the camera was abuzz with images of all sorts of deer from big-antlered bucks to fawn does. Now, nothing, and for reasons I can’t explain, either.

No point wasting my time there, I figured when I removed the trail camera two days before the season ended.

Rejected as well was the apartment-like wooden blind and feeder in Geauga County. While this location has proven the most consistent of locations in providing both sightings of deer and producing animals, the previous two visits yielded no visuals.

“Whatever I decide it’s going to be the wrong choice,” I said, muttering to myself.

Well, maybe.

Settling in a little more than two hours before the end of legal shooting time at 6:19 p.m., I fastened my gear to the blind’s innards and made ready the Horton crossbow for the last time this season.

I also broke out a copy of one of outdoor humorist Pat McManus’ books. Might as well entertain myself, I figured, as I waited for the oft-hand chance a deer would actually pay a visit to the game feeder.

The evening was quiet though far from uncomfortable, the temperature starting out at 41 degrees, if the thermometer I keep at the blind was to be believed.

Song birds began to approach the kernels of corn that the feeder had dispensed, the beggars gleaning their fair share of the booty.

Finishing up one of the book’s many funny chapters I then took a poke out the narrow half-moon slit in the blind’s left “window.”

There, about 25 yards away stood a mature doe. It had come from behind and now remain transfixed looking in the general direction of the blind.

Hoping the doe would close the distance I made ready should she tramp to the feeder. That would place the deer in the better sight picture offered by a larger-opened window in front.

Instead, the doe simply began - very slowly, I’m quick to add - aimlessly wandering about and still to my left. Every now and then she’d peck at the ground, no doubt securing an acorn that no other deer, turkey or squirrel had yet to find.

Of course had it been deer firearms-hunting season I would have had a much more likely chance of shooting the animal. I would have waited for her to turn and offer me a quartering-away shot at less than 50 yards.

I won’t take that risk, not with a crossbow, anyway. I have long maintained a vow that I would not launch an arrow at any deer over 20 yards away, let alone one at an animal that is not positioned broadside.

After perhaps 15 minutes the doe sashayed north and toward a large ragweed field.

I exhaled a disappointed sigh, extinguishing a stored-up lengthy bit of inhaled air.

Though I still had 45 minutes remaining before the clock ran out I knew I had witnessed my last chance of shooting another deer this season.

“She’s a mature doe and I bet she’s carrying at least one fawn,” I thought. “That’ll mean at least two - maybe three -deer for next season.”

It was a solid rationalization of potential prospects in about another 7 1/2 months.

When the last remaining measured embers of the season died I exited the blind. A nearly full moon was now up and its light was decorating the forest floor while a decided chill had captured the daytime warmth, holding it hostage as I retreated to my car.

Stumbling out of the woodlot and crossing the property owner’s lawn, I made my way to the car, stashing the crossbow, arrow quiver and equipment-laden backpack for the last time for the season.

I suspect I’d archery hunted more than 60 times this past season, most sessions for no more than two hours either before or after work.

During that spell I had passed on a couple of antlered deer as well as a couple of fawn does and button bucks. No regrets, especially given the fact that by doing so I allowed my older brother, Rich, to eventually shoot one of the bucks and my wife one of the button bucks.

Besides, I still managed to arrow a deer, collecting an adult doe just before Thanksgiving. Between that animal and a truly large doe I killed on opening day of the firearms deer-hunting season, I figured I did pretty well for myself.

You won’t find me complaining any. I’ve already begun the task of preparing for the next archery season. I’ve organized the various shades of outerwear into their appropriate container bins and hung the crossbow.

Plans are also in the works to better situate the game feeders, add a trail camera or two and do some repair work to at least one of the blinds.

After all, the 2012-2013 archery deer-hunting season can’t get here soon enough.
Just look at how fast the 2011-2012 season came and went.

A video of my last two evening hunts during the archery deer-hunting season is available at The News-Herald’s video page, sports section.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Pre-trial date for Wildlife Division defendants; new legal wrinkle in case

Brown County Prosecutor Jessica A. Little says that a pre-trial hearing for the five indicted former and current Ohio Division of Wildlife officials is set for 1 p.m., March 12.

At this hearing, Little says, she hopes that progress can be made toward setting an actual trial date.

However, that goal may not be reached, at least not any time soon.

Little says that she’s aware that the defendants’ attorneys have filed what’s called “a motion to certify a conflict” with Ohio’s 12th District Court of Appeals.

The argument is that the recent decision by the 12th District Court favoring an argument by Little is in conflict with a similar one that the Ohio 6th District Court of Appeals ruled on in 2009.

“The state Supreme Court wants uniformity in the various appellate courts, but I disagree that there is a conflict,” Little said. “I don’t think it will go up on this certification of conflict but there is potential for it to go to what’s called a ‘discretionary appeal,’ and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Supreme Did accepted it since this is a matter of great public interest.”

Little said also that she’s not comfortable commenting on the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' decision last week to place the remaining three employed Wildlife Division employees on unpaid administrative leave and then the subsequent retirement Wednesday of one of them - law enforcement administrator James Lehman.

“Whatever is done should be done in the best interests of the taxpayers,” Little said.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

UPDATED 1: Indicted Wildlife Division official retires

Indicted Ohio Division of Wildlife law enforcement executive administrator Jim Lehman turned in his retirement papers Wednesday, says an official with the parent Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Lehman had been placed on unpaid administrative leave last week following a legal loss before Ohio’s 12th District Court of Appeals.

Still on unpaid administrative leave are the Wildlife Division's Human Resource Manager Michele Ward-Tackett and District Five (southwest Ohio) Manager Todd Haines.

Lehman is one of five former or current Wildlife Division officials who are under felony indictment in Brown County Common Pleas Court.

The five lost a court battle with Brown County prosecutor Jessica Little who challenged a lower court ruling that said the officials were protected by the so-called “Garrity Rule.”

This legal fiat protects certain government employees from testifying on matters if they believe that by doing would jeopardize their jobs.

Bethany McCorkle, the Natural Resources Department’s deputy chief of communications, said since Lehman has at least 30 years of employment with the Wildlife Division he was eligible for retirement.

Lehman's on-going legal issues do not impact his retirement income, McCorkle said also.

McCorkle said as well that a replacement for Lehman has not yet been named.

Also, says McCrokle, neither Haines nor Ward-Tackett are eligible to retire. Haines has 24 years with the natural Resources Department while Ward-Tackett has 23 years of service.

To retire each needs a minimum of 30 years of service, McCorkle said.

However, law enforcement officers can retire after either 25 years of service or 48 years of age, McCorkle said as well.

This story will be up-dated as additional information becomes available.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Allan Wright "converts" court appearance to plea appearance

Allan Wright, former Ohio Division of Wildlife officer assigned to Brown County, has “converted” his scheduled federal court appearance originally set for Feb. 22 to a scheduled plea appearance at 9 a.m., Feb. 24 before federal district court judge Michael R. Barrett, said a federal court clerk today.

Wright is at the apex of a long-running matter that has also legally enveloped five current and retired Wildlife Division officials.

By way of review, Wright is under indictment for felony and misdemeanor violations of the federal government’s Lacey Act.

Wright agree to state complaints that in 2006 he allowed a South Carolina wildlife officer to use his Ohio address to obtain a resident state hunting license.

He subsequently was given a written reprimand which was eventually expunged. That action set in legal motion charges being brought against five current or retired Ohio Division of Wildlife officials.

However, Wright had been reinstated to his Wildlife Division post, only to be placed on unpaid administrative leave in August when he was charged in federal court for the alleged Lacy Act infractions.

Based on Ohio law, Wright remained on that status for a two-month period before being elevated to paid administrative leave, though the Ohio Department of Natural Resources continues to refuse to pay Wright his wages.

In a one-page letter dated Oct. 28, 2011 then-interim Natural Resources Director (and now the Wildlife Division chief) Scott A. Zody wrote:

“As a result of your recent per-disciplinary hearing held on October 25, 2011, you were found guilty of violating the following provisions of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Disciplinary Policy:

* B. Dishonesty - (2) Willfully falsifying... any official document.

* D. Failure of Good Behavior - (4) Misuse of and/or carelessness with state property....

* Commissioned Officers: A. Law Enforcement - (1) Violation of Uniformed Officer’s Code of Conduct.

“Therefore, you are being removed from your Wildlife Officer position with the ODNR-Division of Wildlife effective the date of your receipt of this letter.”

Wright was also charged with the federal counts.

Meanwhile, the cases against the five Wildlife Division officials has returned to Brown County Common Pleas court following a recent state appellate court ruling favoring Brown County prosecutor Jessica Little.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twiter: @Fieldkorn