Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Two indicted Wildlife Division officers plead not guilty as agency appoints new southwest law enforcement administrator

The two Ohio Division of Wildlife officers indicted last month on state felony charges have each pleaded not guilty to the charges in Brown County Court of Common Pleas.

Indicted July 19 were Wildlife Division field supervisor David Warner and Matthew Roberts, state wildlife officer assigned to Clinton County.

Both men work out of the Wildlife Division’s District Five (southwest Ohio) office in Xenia.

And it is this office which also saw the appointment last week of the Wildlife Division’s first-ever female law enforcement administrator.

Warner and Roberts were indicted in the Brown County Court of Common Pleas for theft in office, a fifth degree felony, and tampering with records, a third degree felony. Warner was also indicted for dereliction of duty, a second degree misdemeanor.

A fifth degree felony is punishable by a jail term of six to 12 months, a maximum fine of $2,500 or both. A third degree Felony is punishable by a jail term of one to five years, a maximum fine of $10,000 or both. A third degree misdemeanor is punishable by a jail term of not more than 60 days, a maximum fine of $500 or both.

The charges stem from the pair’s alleged activity of hunting while on duty, and for allegedly turning in bogus time slips that supposedly showed they were on duty when they were allegedly hunting with former state wildlife officer Allan Wright, who had been assigned to Brown County.

The indictments were handed down by Brown County Prosecutor Jessica Little. It was Little who in 2010 brought charges against five current or former Wildlife Division officers.

Wright was sentenced July 17 in federal court for violating the federal Lacey Act, and will be called by Little as a prosecution witness against Warner and Roberts.

For his part, Warner pleaded not guilty Aug. 1 and is being represented by attorney David P. Mesaros who also requested a pretrial conference. That meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m., Aug. 21, according to Brown County Court of Common Pleas’ records.

Warner’s bond was posted at $20,000 but was released on his own recognizance.

Roberts entered his not guilty plea Monday and is represented by attorney Niroshan Wijesooriya. A second hearing for Roberts is set for 1 p.m., Aug. 22, said a court official.

The officer’s bond was set at $10,000 but Roberts was also released on his own recognizance.

In a related matter, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has appointed Michelle Welsh as the Law Enforcement Supervisor for the Wildlife Division’s District 5.

As such, Welch becomes the first-ever female appointed to a Wildlife Division law enforcement administrator position.

Welch began her career with the Natural Resources Department as an intern with the Division of Watercraft in early 2001. She then served as a seasonal Parks Division officer before becoming a Watercraft Division officer stationed in the Akron area in early 2002.

In Dec. 2002, Welch was accepted into the Wildlife Division’s Officers Academy.
Upon graduation, Welch was assigned to Clinton County in 2003. There she served for two years before being promoted to an agency Wildlife Investigator in 2005.

“Michelle has served with distinction in every position she had held with the Department, and we are pleased to have her leadership and integrity in District 5,” said Bethany McCorkle, the Natural Resources Department’s deputy director for communications.

“Michelle is also an avid and accomplished hunter and angler, and is an excellent ambassador for women in the outdoors.”

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

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