Illegal hunt scheme leads to 15-month prison sentence for New Albany ‘guide’
Columbus — Three Franklin County men received jail time for operating a bogus hunting guide service that poached at least nine deer and duped hunters from Ohio, Michigan, Texas, New Hampshire and Vermont.
In some instances, hunters were encouraged to shoot near a school bus stop and use a backyard elevated playhouse as a hunting blind, according to the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
Scott J. Walsh, 55, of New Albany, Ohio, was sentenced to 15 months in prison after being convicted of discharging a firearm near a premises, attempted discharge of a firearm near a premises, improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle, wildlife trafficking, and having a weapon under disability.
In addition, Walsh was ordered to pay $5,000 in restitution, forfeit a truck, an all-terrain vehicle and deer mounts of illegally harvested deer. Walsh had his hunting rights suspended for five years. He also must have no contact with hunter Mark Reinhardt during his post release supervision.
His son, Justin S. Walsh, 23, and Steven A. Clemons, 48, both of New Albany, who assisted in the illegal hunting scheme, were each sentenced to 30 days in jail. Justin Walsh’s sentence will be suspended if he pay $500 toward a $2,000 fine by April 12. Clemons' jail time will be suspended if he pays a $500 fine by April 12
Justin Walsh was convicted of improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle and hunting without permission. In addition to jail and fines, his hunting rights were suspended for five years.
Clemons was convicted of improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle and one count hunting without permission. He was ordered to pay restitution of $3,000.
Scott Walsh and the two others were indicted after a two-year investigation triggered by a complaint from a concerned citizen, alleging illegal hunting by Scott Walsh. Mr. Walsh had been the subject of 30 wildlife complaints since 1990, said Leighland Arehart, a DOW law enforcement supervisor.
The hunting scheme generated hundreds to thousands of dollars from at least 18 hunters, and involved hunting on land of 40 property owners in the New Albany area.
Scott Walsh advertised, mostly by word of mouth, selling himself as a hunting guide and claimed access by right of ownership or permission to hunt 1,600 acres of prime deer-hunting property. In reality, he owned none of the land in question and had permission to hunt on 15 acres. When confronted by landowners, he would bully or threaten them, Arehart said.
To lure customers, Scott Walsh would send clients photos of trophy white-tailed deer he had poached from the area, according to a news release.
Mark Reinhardt, of Granville, Ohio, said Walsh showed him properties that he claimed he had permission to hunt on; he checked Walsh's references and did what he thought was right before setting up a bowhunt with Walsh with four of his out-of-state hunting companions.
“How far do you have to go to check out a guide?” Reinhardt said.
After a few days, Reindhardt's hunting party had suspicions about Walsh.
“He started acting weird,” Reinhardt said. “We were dressing a deer, and he said, ‘We got to get of here.’ And we said, why do we have to leave?”
Walsh was concerned about a police officer in the nearby area, the hunters said.
Ian Dewey, of Keene, N.H., a member of the Reinhardt hunting party, recalled Walsh warning to try not to move around as a neighbor walked his dog in the area.
Reinhardt said he and his hunting party alerted the Ohio Division of Wildlife several years ago to their suspicions of Walsh. Both hunters said they were encouraged by the DOW’s lengthy investigation and of keeping hunters who used Scott Walsh as a guide informed of the progress of the case against Walsh.
Dewey said the experience with Walsh gives ethical hunters pause.
“He gives us a bad name,” Dewey said.
On one occasion, Walsh was encouraging hunters to chase a wounded deer on an ATV, Dewey said.
In New Hampshire, Dewey said hunting guides are licensed by the state, unlike Ohio.
Jason Parent, who has operated a New Hampshire hunting guide business with his brother for 14 years, said one of the key things for hunters to ask for when checking out a guide service credentials is see a copy of the guide's hunting insurance.
Hunters who paid Scott Walsh and his companions should be considered victims, Arehart said.
The DOW was assisted by the Franklin County Sheriff's Office in searching residences, vehicles and storage units belonging to Scott Walsh and Clemons, Arehart said. Among items seized were trophy deer mounts and a truck and ATV belonging to Scott Walsh.
Among the wildlife violations documented during the investigation were: discharging a firearm near a premise, improper handling of a firearm, having weapons under disability, hunting without permission, failing to wear hunter orange, no hunting license, no deer permit, possession of drugs and jacklighting.
Assistant County Prosecutor Heather Robinson said DOW investigators “did an excellent job… pulling someone not safe out of the field.”