When former Ohio Division of Wildlife officer Allan Wright is sentenced July 17 in federal court he will face a tough, no-nonsense foe in the form of the U.S. Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
Wright, 45, and of Russellville, pleaded guilty June 18 in federal court in Cincinnati to violating the Lacey Act “by trafficking in and making false records for illegally harvested white-tailed deer,” the U.S. Justice Department says.
The Justice Department says that Wright pleaded guilty to a total of four Lacey Act crimes based on his conduct between 2006 and 2010.
Upon sentencing, Wright faces up to one year in federal prison, a fine of up to $1,000 per count, or both.
And the Justice Department will be asking that Federal Court Judge Michael R. Barrett not to spare the rod.
Federal prosecutors are requesting that Judge Barrett sentence Wright to three months in jail, a year of supervised release, and a $1,000 fine. Along with various other related conditions.
Meanwhile, Wright's attorney, Louis Sirkin, is requesting sentencing tolerance for Wright. The defense's request is for probation and a small fine, wire reports say.
And while U.S. Justice Department trial lawyer James B. Nelson of the agency’s Environmental Crimes Section did the actual yeoman’s work on Wright’s case it his boss that has set the get-tough, pro-environmental law tone for the Environment and Natural Resource Division.
That unit is headed by Columbia-born, New York-raised , Ignacia S. Moreno.
Moreno was appointed to her position by President Barrack Obama on June 8, 2009. She was confirmed by a bipartisan, unanimous 93-0 U.S. Senate vote on Nov. 5, 2009.
When installing Moreno, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said on March 5, 2010 that his new environmental law enforcement spear point “... has the experience and broad perspective necessary to lead this work. She shares this Administration ’s strong commitment to environmental justice.
“And she was instrumental in developing and implementing the Department’s strategy to fulfill President Clinton’s Executive Order on Environmental Justice. In doing so, I assure you she did more than sit behind a desk drafting policy statements.”
Nor has she in the case of Allan Wright, either.
In an electronic filing before the federal court in Cincinnati, Moreno entered a sentencing statement that has strong and harsh words regarding Wright’s behavior as a state wildlife officer.
Moreno’s official opening Argument/Offense comment reads:
“This case involves a pattern of criminal conduct undertaken by Defendant Allan Wright while he was employed as a uniformed peace officer. The evidence shows that, while he was on duty and acting as a Wildlife Officer for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife (“ODNR, DOW”), Defendant repeatedly violated the same wildlife laws that he was charged with enforcing.
“In so doing, Defendant not only violated the law but also the public trust that was bestowed upon him by the people of the State of Ohio.
“Though the Sentencing Guidelines Offense Level in this case is comparatively low, the Government respectfully submits that a weighty sentence is appropriate in this case.”
Also in her lengthy sentencing petition to Judge Barrett, Moreno requests that:
“Based on the facts adduced in the Government’s Trial Brief and the PSR, and the arguments set forth herein, the Government respectfully recommends that the Court impose the following sentence:
“1. Three months’ imprisonment.
“2. One year of supervised release, with the following mandatory conditions, in addition to the Court’s standard conditions.
“a. Defendant shall not be employed by any law enforcement agency, in any capacity.
“b. Defendant shall not possess a firearm.
“c. Defendant shall not hunt, or accompany anyone hunting, anywhere in the world.
“d. Defendant shall pay a $1,000 fine. The Government requests that Defendant’s fine be directed to Ohio’s Turn In a Poacher (‘TIP’) program which provides rewards to persons who report wildlife crimes to law enforcement.”
Moreno says in her petition as well that while Wright admitted responsibility “...such acceptance was a long time coming” and that Wright “...and persons acting on Defendant’s behalf, spent a significant amount of time and effort trying to thwart the original investigation in 2007. Indeed, after learning of the instant investigation in 2011, Defendant made an additional effort to derail the investigation into his crimes.”
In concluding her petition before Judge Barrett, Moreno says: “Defendant swore an oath to enforce the wildlife laws of the State of Ohio, and was charged with investigating allegations of wildlife crime and referring violators for prosecution.
“Defendant patrolled Brown County, Ohio, for years allegedly doing just that. And yet, while doing so, he was himself committing wildlife crime. Such a blatant disregard of the public trust cannot be explained away as a ‘lapse in judgment,’ and it cannot be excused simply because the uncovering of Defendant’s crimes caused him stress and anxiety.
"If law enforcement officers cannot be entrusted to obey the law, then ordinary citizens cannot possibly be expected to obey the law. Moreover, if we are unwilling to hold law enforcement officers strictly liable for their crimes, then we forfeit the moral authority to punish ordinary citizens. Such a result could not possibly qualify as Justice.”
None of which should comes as a surprise, given Moreno’s tenacity for environmental justice.
Since hitting the ground as head of the Justice Department’s environmental and natural resources law unit, Moreno has taken her job seriously. That task includes overseeing a wide range of federal statutes regarding the arena of specialized law.
She likewise has reached into the pro-environmental community, “academia, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the private sector” to pluck persons for her “...seasoned and highly-regarded management team.”
In presenting her marching orders Jan. 13, 2011 to the Justice Department’s environment and natural resources troops, Moreno struck a hard-line stances against polluters, the Deepwater Horizon affair, hazardous waste cleanup, as well as “criminal enforcement.”
“Lacey Act enforcement is another priority area,” Moreno said in other 2011 prepared remarks regarding her division’s criminal law enforcement duties.
“The Lacey Act makes it unlawful to send or receive in interstate or foreign commerce fish, wildlife, or plants taken in violation of federal, state, or foreign law. The Division handles an active docket of Lacey Act cases in which we prosecute individuals and corporations who trade in illegally taken fish, wildlife, and plants.”
That it has, too, as Moreno stated in Earth Day 2011 remarks that her unit successfully prosecuted 50 criminal cases against 79 defendants, resulting in $104 million in fines.
“A core mission of the division is the strong enforcement of civil and criminal environmental laws to protect our nation’s air, water and natural resources,” Moreno said.
Come July 17 Judge Barrett will rule whether to grant Wright’s plea for leniency or Moreno’s call for environmental law justice.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn