DNR investigation targets illegal sale of sportfish

Fremont, Ohio — The DNR Division of Wildlife will collect $24,560 in fines and restitution from 10 individuals convicted of commercially selling sportfish they reeled in from the Sandusky River between 2007 and 2011.

Operation Rip-Rap Redux concluded in July following four years of investigation and two years of courtroom wrangling that included a challenge to Ohio’s wildlife restitution law.

Some of those charged were also netted in Operation Rip-Rap – a similar wildlife investigation concluded in 2005. Both investigations were named for the large rocks (rip-rap) that line a river bank to prevent erosion.

Former Sandusky County Wildlife Officer Brian Bury began receiving citizen complaints in 2007 about continued illegal sales of sportfish hooked during the spring spawning run on the river. Supporting allegations also came to the DNR through the Turn-In-A-Poacher (TIP) Hotline at 1-800-POACHER.

Investigators purchased an estimated 1,700 white bass and walleyes over the course of the probe, an agency spokesperson said.

In July 2011, a Sandusky County Grand Jury returned felony indictments against Brian Tucker, David Tucker, Kevin Wiezorek, Ray Simons, James Smith, Jason Pitchford, Michael Bulger, Gordon Bulger, and Dean Groot of Fremont and Jamie Cummings of Marengo. Two others, Shane Pitchford of Fremont and Gary Williams of Mansfield, were charged with misdemeanors. A juvenile was also charged.

Together, the defendants faced a total of 19 felony and 32 misdemeanor counts.

Charges against Gordon Bulger were eventually dismissed. Jamie Cummings was recently diverted to a prosecutor-sponsored program with no record of conviction. However, Cummings’ fishing license was suspended for two years.

In 2012, attorneys for Cummings and Brian Tucker moved to dismiss cases against their clients, saying Ohio’s 2008 law governing restitution for wildlife crimes violated the men’s constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment.

Cummings was accused of selling 135 white bass with a combined value of $2,700. Brian Tucker’s felony and misdemeanor charges involved both white bass and white crappies and meant $5,580 in restitution to the state.

Tucker’s attorney argued the restitution law only set values for antlered deer, not sportfish.

Cummings’ lawyer said the Ohio General Assembly overstepped its authority in passing the law. He also called white bass “trash” fish, with a value below the state-mandated restitution.

Both appeals failed, but added months of court time to the cases.

Under current Ohio law, restitution for walleyes is $50 per fish; white bass is $20 per fish.

Below is a list of penalties imposed in Operation Rip-Rap Redux:

  • Brian Tucker: $2,110 restitution; 180 jail days; two-year fishing license suspension.
  • David Tucker: $2,290 restitution; 10 jail days served; 10-year license suspension; five-year probation.
  • Kevin Wiezorek: $3,810 restitution; 11 months in jail; two-year license suspension.
  • Ray Simons: $5,580 restitution; a year in jail; 10-year license suspension; 50 hours community service.
  • James Smith: $1,140 restitution; a year in jail; 10-year license suspension.
  • Jason Pitchford: $3,280 restitution; $500 fine; 180 jail days with 10 served; 10-year license suspension.
  • Shane Pitchford: $250 fine; 30 jail days suspended; three-year license suspension; 20 hours community service; three-year probation.
  • Michael Bulger: $3,900 restitution; 10-year license suspension; five-year probation.
  • Dean Groot: $1,500 restitution; 180 jail days; 16-year license suspension.
  • Gary Williams: $200 fine; 30 jail days suspended.
  • Jamie Cummings: two-year license suspension; no conviction.
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