Father and son sentenced for deer trafficking

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In the United States, illegal trade in white-tailed deer has huge implications for wild deer and elk populations across the country. We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in coordination with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Georgia Department of Natural Resources, helped to put a stop to a trafficking network in Ohio and Florida.

In this case, a father-son pair of co-conspirators ran an interstate deer trafficking scheme that violated state and federal laws, potentially spreading diseases to wild populations. Donald W. Wainwright, Sr. of Live Oak, Florida was the part owner, operator and part-time resident of Valley View Whitetails of Florida and Valley View Whitetails of Ohio. His son, Donald W. Wainwright, Jr., also from Live Oak, Florida, was also a part-time resident and part-time operator of the site in Ohio. Both of these facilities were high fence white-tailed deer hunting preserves that catered to hunters from around the country.

According to court documents, Wainwright, Sr. illegally trafficked in live white-tailed deer, illegally shipping deer to Florida from Ohio and attempted to ship deer to Georgia from Ohio. That is, until people took notice. It’s important to note that the deer herds involved with these shipments were not certified to be free from chronic wasting disease, tuberculosis or brucellosis. This is a huge health risk for both farmed and wild animals.

Why does chronic wasting disease matter?

Chronic wasting disease is the chief threat to deer and elk populations in North America. This transmissible neurological disease produces small lesions in the brain, ultimately leading to death. The disease is characterized by a loss of body condition and behavioral abnormalities. Given that danger, federal law requires interstate shipments of deer to be certified to be disease-free and the state of Georgia bans all importation of white-tailed deer due to disease concerns.

In this case, deer herds in Florida were potentially exposed to chronic wasting and other diseases because these operators tried to cheat the system. Wainwright, Sr.’s attempted shipment to Georgia was intercepted on I-71 South, about 50 miles from the Ohio River, when Ohio wildlife officers noticed deer noses and antlers inside a cargo trailer and pulled over a truck driven by one of Wainwright, Sr.’s employees. After learning of the traffic stop, Wainwright, Sr. asked four individuals to provide false statements to authorities in an attempt to conceal and cover up the violations.

In addition to these violations, Wainwright, Sr. also sold illegal white-tailed deer hunts at Valley View Whitetails of Ohio without having the required license to run a hunting preserve. Wainwright, Sr. induced clients from around the country to hunt at Valley View Whitetails of Ohio and charged them fees from $1,000 to $50,000 to kill deer inside his high fence facility. Clients then took the bucks back to their home states, which included Florida, Michigan, Alabama and Virginia.

Sentencing wildlife traffickers

On February 27, 2015 Donald W. Wainwright, Sr. pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to 12 charges related to violating the Lacey Act, one count of conspiracy and one count of wire fraud. U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio Carter Stewart announced the plea entered before U.S. District Chief Judge Edmund A. Sargus, Jr. Wainwright, Sr. was later sentenced on August 3, 2015 in U.S. District Court to 21 months in prison and ordered to pay a $125,000 fine. His son, Donald W. Wainwright, Jr., was sentenced to four months of house arrest and three years of probation for eight charges related to violating the Lacey Act.

The Lacey Act: Protecting wildlife for more than a century

Under the Lacey Act, it is unlawful to import, export, transport, sell or purchase wildlife, fish or plants that were taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of a state, federal or foreign law. When it was passed in 1900, the Lacey Act became the first federal law protecting wildlife.

U.S. Attorney Stewart commended the cooperative investigation by law enforcement, as well as Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Heather Robinson and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Peter Glenn-Applegate and J. Michael Marous, who represented the United States in this case.

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