Two more Ohio wildlife officers indicted
Georgetown, Ohio — An Ohio DNR supervisor and a wildlife officer have been indicted on felony theft in office charges for allegedly hunting while on duty during deer gun seasons.
A Brown County grand jury returned the indictment July 19, the same day as the Ohio Inspector General’s Office released findings of an investigation involving the officers, which had been forwarded to the Brown County prosecutor's office.
Officer Field Supervisor David Warner and Clinton County Wildlife Officer Matthew Roberts each face charges of theft in office and tampering with records; Warner faces an additional charge of dereliction of duty, a misdemeanor.
Warner will be placed on unpaid administrative leave and Roberts on restricted duty, according to Bethany McCorkle, an ODNR spokeswoman.
“Upon receiving information that Mr. Warner and Mr. Roberts hunted while on duty, ODNR quickly investigated the matter and alerted the Ohio Inspector General’s office,” according to statement released by the ODNR.
Allan Wright, a former Brown County wildlife officer, was named in the IG report for admitting to hunting while on duty with Warner. Wright, who was fired in 2011, recently pleaded guilty to unrelated federal wildlife charges and was sentenced July 17 to three months home confinement and five years supervised probation during which he is banned from hunting.
Wright’s guilty plea for trafficking in and making false records for illegally harvested white-tailed deer included an agreement to cooperate with future investigations, according to IG office.
The Ohio watchdog agency began its investigation in February after receiving a photograph of Wright and Warner among seven hunters pictured in front of Wright's garage in Russellville, Ohio, in 2008 with seven white-tailed deer.
The photograph of Wright and Warner in partial ODNR field gear, was posted on a web site called Trophy Rock, which according to the IG, is a company that produces a mineral supplement used by deer hunters to attract deer and increase antler growth.
In an interview with IG investigators in May, Wright said he hunted deer, squirrels and turkeys numerous times while on duty without oversight. He said he often hunted with Warner while on duty.
Wright told investigators it was common for Warner and himself to hunt wearing uniform pants after taking off their uniform shirts and gun belts in his garage. When finished hunting, they would put on their full uniforms in Wright's garage, Wright said.
Wright said he was unaware of a policy to report his on- and off-duty status by using his mobile data computer or by updating his status hourly by mobile computer.
Asked by an investigator why he or other ODNR officers were not worried about hunting while on duty and claiming pay for those hours, Wright said, “unless Dave (Warner) would tell them or they would ask, they wouldn't know. There was no oversight.”
Warner was paid $62,773.69 in 2010; Roberts, $51,962.70 and Wright $59,007.54, according to ODNR records. Both Warner and Roberts declined interview requests by the IG investigator.
The IG report determined after reviewing payroll, harvest and communication records, Wright and Warner hunted on the job during the 2008 and 2010 deer gun seasons and Roberts hunted on the job during the 2010 deer gun season.
By not enforcing its directives, the ODNR Division of Wildlife “allowed the wildlife officers to be unaccountable, with little or no supervision or oversight, thus enabling officers to be hunting rather than attending to their enforcement duties,” the IG report concluded.
“The absence of regular communication also presents an officer safety issue,” the IG report stated. “If a wildlife officer were unconscious, incapacitated and unable to operate a radio, the department's failure to mark any wildlife officer's position for long periods could pose serious consequences.”
The IG recommended the ODNR increase its monitoring of on-duty wildlife enforcement officers to “adequately ensure safety and accountability.”
“It underscores the critical importance of documenting on a daily basis our work hours and how we spend them,” Division of Wildlife Chief Scott Zody wrote in an e-mail to employees July 20.
Zody reminded wildlife officers they must log on and off the Multi-Agency Radio Communication System (MARCS) at the beginning and end of their shifts, “and I would suggest confirming the log on and log off via voice communication with the Department Radio Room,” Zody wrote.