Man guilty of deer trafficking

Columbus — A Florida man pleaded guilty Feb. 27 to federal wildlife charges that accused him of conspiracy to illegally sell, transport, and falsely label untested white-tailed deer for the purpose of deer breeding in other states.

Donald Wainwright Sr., 49, of Live Oak, Fla., was indicted in Columbus  in March 2014 with one count of conspiracy, 12 counts of Lacey Act wildlife violations (interstate trafficking and false labeling), and one count of wire fraud. 

In exchange for his guilty pleas, Wainwright agreed to serve 21 months in prison, pay a $125,000 fine, serve 200 hours of community service, pay yet-to-be determined restitution, and publish a statement in Deer Breeders Gazette about his crimes and warn others of  illegally trafficking in deer,  according to court filings.

In addition, the plea agreement requires Wainwright to “provide substantial assistance” in ongoing cases,  not buy or sell deer during a three-year period of post-release supervision, and not guide or hunt deer.

Chief Judge Edmund A Sargus Jr. ordered a presentence investigation.

Wainwright and his son, Donald Jr.,  were indicted after an investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with assistance from the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement, Ohio Division of Wildlife, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Georgia DNR, and Franklin County prosecutor’s office. They were  accused of a conspiracy that began in April 2010, according to court documents. The son’s case has since been sealed.

Wainwright Sr. was a part-owner of a high-fence hunting preserve in West Liberty, Ohio, called Valley View Whitetails of Ohio,and Valley View Whitetails of  Florida. In 2010, Wainwright assisted in starting and operating a deer-breeding business called Cherokee Whitetails of Ohio, which was owned by a business partner named Ben Chason of  Georgia.

The Ohio hunting preserves catered to hunters from around the United States. Wainwright and his son were accused of Lacey Act violations for selling deer hunts at the Ohio hunting preserve in 2012, ranging in collected fees from $1,000 to $50,000, according to court filings in the case. The deer were later transported back to the hunters’ home states in Alabama, Florida, Michigan, and Virginia.

Wainwright’s wild-animal propagation license and license to operate a wild animal hunting preserve had lapsed and not been re-issued when the indictment was returned March 4, according to court papers.

As part of a conspiracy, Wainwright and an unidentified co-conspirator purchased an uncertified trophy white-tailed deer called Little Moose for $20,000 and were accused of having tagged the deer with a federal ID tag from a certified deer that had died. They were also accused of falsifying Ohio documents regarding fatal chronic wasting disease to indicate it was a certified deer. 

Between 2009-2012, breeding services and semen from Little Moose were sold to breeders throughout the nation, earning Wainwright $72,000. 

“As a result, every herd receiving these animals was potentially exposed to diseases which not only have the capacity to infect and kill white-tail deer, but also to infect and kill cattle and even humans,” according to the indictment.

Wainwright was also accused of  transporting 12 untested white-tailed deer from Ohio to Florida, for which he was paid $24,000, and attempting to transport 10 untested deer to Chason’s high-fence hunting preserve in Climax, Ga., which is a state closed to the importation of live deer because of disease concerns. Wainwright admitted Chason spent $50,000 for the intercepted deer, according to court papers. 

Deer shipped to Florida must first have prior permission from the state veterinarian in the form of a certificate issued prior to shipment, according to court filings.

After the deer transport had been stopped by Ohio law enforcement officers, the officers were shown documents falsely stating the deer were headed to Florida, not Georgia, which allegedly was done at  Wainwright’s direction.

Wainwright was accused of  illegally transporting 23 untested deer from Florida to Georgia. 

In December 2012, Wainwright was accused of illegally purchasing four whitetail bucks for his Ohio hunting preserve, which he purchased with a $26,500 wire transfer.

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