Thursday, February 2nd, 2023
Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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Charges in CWD case head to the grand jury

Millersburg, Ohio — A Holmes County judge refused to dismiss felony charges of tampering with evidence against the operator of a private hunting preserve resulting  from an investigation of deer suspected of being exposed to fatal chronic wasting disease.

Municipal Court Judge Jane Irving ruled there was enough evidence presented at a preliminary hearing Feb. 18 to have the charges reviewed by a grand jury, which meets monthly.

Daniel Yoder, 40, and his business, World Class Whitetails of Ohio, were charged in a criminal complaint filed by Ohio Department of Agriculture investigator William Lesho of courts of four counts of tampering with evidence. Each charge carries a possible penalty of up to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

On Oct. 23, the ODA announced that samples taken from a whitetail buck at Yoder’s hunting preserve tested positive for chronic wasting disease, a contagious disease fatal to whitetail deer without a known cause. It was the first positive case of CWD in Ohio, according to the ODA.

Lesho was questioned by Holmes County Prosecuting Attorney Steve Knowling concerning the tampering charges he filed against Yoder. Lesho testified on Oct. 24 that a hunter from Indiana shot a buck with “a nice rack,” but told Yoder he was concerned the deer appeared “unhealthy.”

Lesho stated Yoder then instructed an employee, in “Pennsylvania Dutch,” to remove the buck’s rack and give the antlers to the hunter along with some deer meat that was retrieved from a freezer. A skinned doe head was placed into a sealed bag with the tag from the harvested buck. The buck carcass was thrown away, Lesho testified.

As to a tampering charge alleged to have occurred on Nov. 21, Lesho testified that three hunters from West Virginia harvested three bucks and took them to West Virginia without being tested for CWD. At the time, the hunting preserve was under quarantine, which restricted movement of deer on and off the premises without ODA approval.

Defense attorney Bradley Barbin asked Judge Irving to dismiss the charges on the basis there was no evidence presented for a purpose to defraud the state of Ohio. Irving refused the request and ruled there was probable cause to have a future grand jury review the charges.

The charges result from a two-month criminal investigation conducted by Lesho of Yoder’s hunting preserve, where the ODA learned his deer may have been exposed to CWD from deer coming into Ohio from infected herds in Pennsylvania, court records show.

Yoder’s hunting preserve was quarantined on April 24, 2014, for suspected CWD. The preserve quarantine and similar quarantines were imposed June 5 and Oct. 17 on his two breeding farms.
Statewide, the ODA has quarantined 43 captive deer operations since April 15 after the high-fence preserves received deer from Pennsylvania that later tested positive for CWD. CWD was first detected in Pennsylvania in 2012.

Twenty-two quarantines were lifted after tests on 53 Pennsylvania deer proved negative for CWD, according to ODA spokeswoman Ericka Hawkins. Quarantines remain on 21 private hunting operations “until the department is satisfied that the threat of disease transference has passed,” Hawkins wrote in an email.

The ODA tested tissue samples for CWD from 753 Ohio road-kill deer collected from September 2013 through March 2014, and all test results were negative, Hawkins wrote. In addition, 88 hunter-harvested mature white-tail deer and nine deer displaying CWD symptoms were tested and all results were negative, she wrote.

In a related matter, ODA’s Division of Animal Health ordered Yoder’s captive deer herd destroyed after an appraisal of the whitetails is completed. The euthanization was ordered because Yoder’s 200 to 300 deer have been exposed to CWD.

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