Tuesday, July 17, 2012

UPDATED THROUGHOUT: Allan Wright sentenced; no jail time but no hunting/fishing for five years

CINCINNATI - Allan Wright, the defrocked former state wildlife officer, was sentenced in U.S. District Court-Ohio South District July 17, ending a chapter in the history of the Ohio Division of Wildlife that left the agency with a “black eye.”

Federal Judge Michael R. Barrett - in sentencing Wright for violating four misdemeanor charges of the federal Lacey Act - also said that Wright has placed himself at a “crossroads,” a fork in life in which the one-time award-winning, 18-year state wildlife officer could still “turn your life around.”

At the same time, Barrett said that Wright has given wildlife law enforcement in Ohio both a “black eye” and likewise “violated his oath of office.”

Judge Barrett then advised Wright that he should “look into the mirror” and decide if he’ll treat everyone equally as well as follow the laws that are intended to protect fish and wildlife.

“Most people who hunt and fish and do those things are respectful of the woods,” Judge Barrett said.

And then Barrett gave Wright the news: He can keep his new job within the security department of Lincoln Memorial College in eastern Tennessee on the condition that he must leave his weapon on campus, house arrest for three months, and pay a $1,000 fine with the money going to the Wildlife Division’s Turn-in-A-Poacher (TIP) program. Added to this was a $25-per-count court cost.

Wright also is forbidden to buy any hunting or fishing license anywhere in the world for the next five years, the length of his probation.

As is standard court practice, Barrett said that Wright cannot engage in the taking of any illegal drug or alcohol and must meet periodically with a probation officer.

Wright’s legal troubles began more than two years ago. That is when Wright was investigated for allowing a South Carolina wildlife officer to use his Brown County (Ohio) home address in order to obtain a resident hunting license.

This matter escalated to include several other Wildlife Division officials, who themselves are still the target of legal issues.

As for the federal matters, Wright was charged with violating the Lacey Act “by trafficking in and making false records for illegally harvested white-tailed deer,” said the U.S. Justice Department when the former wildlife officer pleaded guilty June 18.

During the 30-minute or so sentencing session, Judge Barrett said that Wright broke the law in part because he “was good at polishing the brass,” a reference to his closeness with higher up officials in the Wildlife Division.

Federal prosecutors were not kind to Wright, either.

James Nelson, the case’s lead federal prosecutor, gave a withering statement against Wright.
Nelson said of Wright that “he abused his badge” and that he also must “understand he’s not special” and that it  was wrong for him to “sell hunting licenses to his friends.”

The prosecutor then went on to acknowledge the importance of such laws as the Lacey Act.

“Without these laws there would be no wildlife,” Nelson said.

Nelson continued to scold Wright, saying the former state wildlife officer “knew better.”

Importantly, the Justice Department says as well, that to condone such actions as Wright’s can turn wildlife law enforcement into anarchy with a public so cynical that no one will obey the law, which Wright swore to protect.

“Committing wildlife crimes while on duty as a wildlife officer, Wright not only violated the law but also breached the public’s faith in the integrity of the wildlife program,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant U.S.
Attorney General for the agency’s Environmental Crimes Section.

Moreno is Nelson’s boss and who took an interest in the Wright case.

“In holding Wright accountable for his crimes, the Justice Department reaffirms its commitment to prosecute wildlife law violators in order to protect America’s wildlife resources for the enjoyment of the American people,” Moreno said also.

In seeking leniency for Wright, his attorney, Louis Sirkin, said that while the former wildlife officer showed a lapse in good judgement and that his actions were “a disappointment to the people of Ohio,” Wright has learned a “tough lesson.”

Sirkin also asked that Wright be allowed to possess a weapon while on duty as part of the college’s security detail.

When asked for a quote following the sentencing, Sirkin said that he had no comment.
Prior to Judge Barrett’s sentencing Wright apologized to the court, his family and friends.

“I take full responsibility,” Wright said of his actions that began a chain of legal events that - more than two years later - are still unfolding.

In concluding, Barrett said that should Wright fail during his probationary period he will again appear before the federal court system.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources said that it had undertaken its own administrative review of Wright and then “took appropriate actions” after that process was completed.

“It would be inappropriate for (the) ODNR to comment beyond our own actions in regards to Mr. Wright’s conduct,” said Matt Eiselstein, the Natural Resources Department’s deputy chief of communications.

And in the associated matter of the five Wildlife Division officers who sent letters on Wright's behalf to Judge Barrett, Eiselstein said the investigation into this matter is still "ongoing.

"Comment also was sought from Brown County prosecutor Jessica Little, who initiated the first set of charges against Wright and following an investigation by the Ohio Inspector General.

Those charges were later dropped, though Little continues to seek legal action against five current and former Wildlife Division officials as to their administrative actions related to Wright.

However, Little is out of town and thus is unavailable for comment.

-Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

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