Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Warner gets reduced charges in exchange for testimony against former Wildlife bosses

David Warner, the legally embattled former field supervisor for the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s District Five (southwest Ohio) office, has dodged two serious felony bullets.

In exchange, Warner pleaded no contest to two misdemeanors. He likewise agreed to make restitution to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife for wages he did not earn.

Warner also agreed to other terms spelled out by Brown County Prosecutor Jessica Little.

Among them: To provide what-is-called truthful testimony in the felony cases involving former Wildlife Division chief David Graham and the former supervisor for the agency’s District Five office, Todd Haines.

The plea agreement was arranged Wednesday in Brown County Common Pleas Court and before its judge, Judge Scott T. Gusweiler.

Warner - and former state wildlife officer Matthew Roberts - were both indicted in July for theft in office, a fifth degree felony, and tampering with records, a third degree felony. Warner also was charged with dereliction of duty, a Third Degree misdemeanor.

The Wildlife Division fired Warner Sept. 21 while Roberts was discharged seven days later, Sept. 28.

Each of 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.

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.

Also, a third degree misdemeanor is punishable by a jail term of not more than 60 days, a maximum fine of $500 or both.

By accepting the terms of the plea agreement, Warner, at least, will avoid these serious potential punishments.

Instead, Warner agreed to plead no contest to obstruction of official business, as well as unauthorized use of property.

While both are misdemeanors punishable by fines, jail time, or both, it is probable that Warner will face neither, says Little.

Little says that it is her recommendation that Warner serve community control, though a pre-sentencing evaluation must first occur.

However, there are two conditions that Warner must complete, says Little.

“He must make restitution to the DNR,” Little said. “And he also must testify truthfully on the matters against David Graham and Todd Haines.”

Graham is the former Wildlife Division chief and Haines is the former supervisor of the agency’s District Five office.

Both were indicted along with other agency officials back in April, 2010 for their alleged role in a matter involving former state wildlife officer Allan Wright.

In that situation, Graham, Haines and the other indicted top Wildlife Division officials are alleged to have improperly disciplined Wright for allowing a South Carolina wildlife officer to use the former’s home address in order to obtain an Ohio resident hunting license.

State charges were eventually dropped against Wright who in January pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor charges in the federal court system for violating the Lacey Act, an important wildlife law enforcement tool of the federal government.

Graham, Haines and the other current or former still-indicted Wildlife Division officials have appealed their situation on a technical legal point before the Ohio State Supreme Court. The court has yet to rule on their appeal.

As for Little, she says she is looking forward “to getting some of these cases resolved.”

“I feel satisfied with the (Warner) results and I also feel satisfied to have his truthful testimony in the case of the conduct of his superiors,” Little said.

Another hearing for Warner before the Brown County Common Pleas Court system is scheduled for 12:30 p.m., Jan. 16.

In regards to Roberts, his next court date is set for Feb. 19. In October, Roberts rejected a reduced sentence.

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn
Twitter: @Fieldkorn

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