The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Wildlife recently closed the adjudication phase of one of Ohio’s largest white-tailed deer commercialization cases, spanning four counties and two states. The case primarily concerned a particular processor in Gallia County and included the illegal taking of deer and selling venison.
In all, the cases resulted in 14 defendants being charged with 122 counts in four counties and two states to include felonies and misdemeanors. They combined to pay $70,013.14 in fines and restitution. The group also collectively received a hunting license revocation totaling 63 years and paid more than $6,700 in court costs. All evidence seized during the execution of the search warrants was forfeited to the Division of Wildlife.
Included in the list of charges: engaging in a pattern of corrupt activities, grand theft, falsification, tampering with records, possession of untagged deer parts, hunting with an illegal implement, and complicity to wildlife sales. The maximum restitution to one individual was $20,000. A second individual received restitution of $13,000. Multiple individuals received extensive hunting license suspensions.
The investigation culminated in February 2020 with the execution of five search warrants in Gallia County by Division of Wildlife law enforcement officials, with an additional search warrant conducted in Pennsylvania by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Wildlife officers and investigators conducted 22 interviews in Ohio and three in Pennsylvania to verify the alleged violations.
During the execution of the search warrants, more than 1,000 items were seized, including venison and venison processing equipment, deer harvest records, deer mounts and antlers, and hunting implements. A stolen rifle, illegally possessed firearm suppressors, and a moonshine still were also discovered during the searches.
The investigation revealed the owners and operators of the deer processing business falsely game checked deer, created false deer harvest records, falsified deer tags, exceeded deer hunting limits, and stole venison from customers who brought in deer for processing. Falsified records allowed the deer processors to take and have in their possession more deer than they were lawfully allowed.
Stolen venison was stockpiled and laundered into summer sausage that was sold for profit. Over the course of two hunting seasons, investigators documented more than 2,000 pounds of venison that were either stolen from their 280 customers or taken by unlawful means such as jacklighting, taking deer out of season, and falsifying records.
The Division of Wildlife thanks the law enforcement agencies involved, including the Pennsylvania Game Commission which conducted interviews and a search warrant, as well as assistance from the Ohio Department of Public Safety Investigative Unit. In addition, the Division of Wildlife thanks Supervising Attorney/Senior Assistant Attorney General Sally Montell and Principal Assistant Attorney General Ken Egbert, of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office Environmental Enforcement Sections, Criminal Prosecution Unit for prosecuting this case.