Friday, July 13, 2012

Investigation of five letter-writing wildlife officers nears end

Five state wildlife officers remain under the investigative microscope for their part in sending letters to a federal judge requesting that the jurist exercise compassion when he sentences a former colleague on Tuesday.

These Ohio Division of Wildlife officers sent their letters to Federal Court Judge Michael R. Barrett over a seven-day period in February.

Each wildlife officer requested of Barrett that he demonstrate leniency when sentencing Allan Wright, 45, the defrocked state wildlife officer who had been assigned to Brown County in southwest Ohio.

The five officers being investigated are Eric Lamb, state wildlife officer assigned to Brown County and who replaced Wright; James Carnes, state wildlife officer assigned to Highland County; Chris Gilkey, one-time state wildlife officer assigned to Adams County and now assigned to Meigs County; Rick Rogers, state wildlife officer assigned to Warren County; and Michael Ohlrich, state wildlife officer assigned to Clermont County.

At issue is whether it was appropriate for the five officers to take it upon themselves to write letters on Wright’s behalf. Along with this is whether it was a breach of employee conduct to either identify that they had worked with Wright, were themselves a state wildlife officer, and with Ohlrich also using agency letterhead/stationary to make his plea to Barrett.

In each case the officers spelled out their respect for Wright, noting his standing as a devoted family man with a wife and two children as well as the former officer’s dedication to his job.

Wright is to be sentenced in the Cincinnati Federal Court for violating the Lacey Act, a federal wildlife law intended to punish interstate criminal activity that is of a wildlife nature. Wright faces the possibility of jail time, a hefty fine, and potential loss of his hunting privileges for a court-designated period of time.

As background, Wright plead guilty to trafficking in and making false records regarding an illegally harvested white-tailed deer.

Wright admitted that he used his authority as a wildlife officer to seize deer antlers from a hunter who had illegally killed the buck in 2009, said the U.S. Department of Justice in February.

Rather than disposing of the antlers through court proceedings, as required by Ohio law, Wright “knowingly supplied them to another individual who transported them from Ohio to Michigan,” the Justice Department said in a press release.

Scott Zody, the Wildlife Division’s chief, said Wednesday that the disposition of the investigation relating to the five wildlife officers should be concluded shortly.

-Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

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