Deer-Trafficking Scheme Nets Record $1.6 Million Fine

By Alan Johnson The Columbus Dispatch  

The largest fine and restitution for a wildlife crime in U.S. history, $1.6 million, has been ordered in an Ohio case involving trafficking in whitetail deer.

Benjamin N. Chason, 61, of Climax, Ga., was sentenced in U.S. District Court for violations of the Lacey Act, a 115-year-old federal wildlife-protection law.
Chason's fine and restitution is the largest ever levied against an individual in a wildlife case, according to U.S. Attorney Carter M. Stewart's office. The sentence was unsealed on Monday. The money has already been paid.
Chason and co-defendant Donald W. Wainwright Sr. of Logan County trafficked in live white-tail deer for hunts, court documents show. Wainwright owned hunting preserves in Logan County and in Florida called Valley View Whitetails.

Wainwright "illegally shipped deer to Florida from Ohio and attempted to ship deer to Georgia from Ohio. The herds involved with these shipments were not certified to be free from chronic wasting disease, tuberculosis and brucellosis. Federal law requires interstate shipments of deer to be certified disease-free; because the deer in the present case were not certified as disease-free, herds (both captive and wild) in Florida were potentially exposed to these diseases," court records show.

Officials caught on to the scheme when a shipment of deer in a truck was stopped on I-71 heading south out of Ohio.

"Illegal sale and transport of white-tailed deer are serious crimes, and I appreciate the teamwork and cooperation between all of the agencies involved to help obtain these convictions," said Scott Zody, Division of Wildlife chief for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

The investigation involved the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources will receive $600,000 from the fine. In addition, $200,000 will go to the Federal Endangered Species and Wildlife Diversity Fund, $400,000 to Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks, and $100,000 to the state's "Turn in a Poacher" program.
Chason pleaded guilty on May 1, 2014. He was sentenced to three years of probation and four months of home confinement.

Wainwright Sr. pleaded guilty on Feb. 27, 2015, to 12 Lacey Act violations and was sentenced to 21 months in prison, plus a $125,000 fine and 200 hours of community service in parks.