Widespread sweep nets alleged wildlife crimes

The Ohio DNR's wildlife division expects to charge 15 to 20 people with felonies and misdemeanors, following a two-year investigation into illegally harvested and marketed game and fish.

Ken Fitz, who heads the division's law enforcement unit, said about 70 state wildlife officers, as well as some local officials, engaged in a widespread "sweep" across seven northern Ohio counties on March 12. They executed search warrants and interviewed about 40 people as part of "Operation North Coast." Among items seized were 115 trophy deer mounts, cell phones, a motor vehicle, hunting equipment and hundreds of pounds of venison.

Fitz told Ohio Wildlife Council members on March 16 one suspect was allegedly selling sport-caught walleye on Craig's List. Ohio law forbids the commercial sale of venison and sport-caught fish.

Tips from the public spurred the multi-year probe, Fitz said.

The Toledo Blade reported wildlife officers searched locations in Kent, Parma, Sheffield and Broadview Heights, as well as some in Richland and Wood counties.

Potential charges include over-harvesting of deer, hunting from a motor vehicle, hunting inside city limits, hunting without permission, illegal use of deer tags, and illegal sale of deer meat.

At some locations, officers also discovered illegal drugs, Fitz said.

All cases will be turned over to local authorities for prosecution.

DNR will release the names of suspects once they are formally charged.

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