Facebook plays role in poaching convictions

 

Fort Snelling, Minn. — Facebook has a long memory and, in some cases, a very public one. Two Wisconsin men have been found guilty of illegal guiding and poaching across the border in Canada, and it’s partly because of their own Facebook posts that they were caught.

U.S. Attorney Gregory J. Haanstad, of the Eastern District of Wisconsin, announced June 27 that two Milwaukee-area men pleaded guilty in federal court for violating the Lacey Act and lying about it to a federal officer. These violations are related to the unlawful importation into the United States of wildlife that had been killed in Ontario, in violation of Canadian law.

In late 2013, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry conservation officers decided to look into complaints relating to the possible illegal hunting activities of Reid Viertel, 41, of West Allis, and various associates, including Terry Schmit, 43, of Franklin. These complaints were partly based on Facebook posts by Viertel and Schmit where they mentioned their successful hunting trips in Canada.

As a part of their investigation, Canadian officials asked a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to interview the men. Together, with assistance from Wisconsin DNR conservation wardens, the agent learned that this was much more than a simple hunting trip.

At the time of the interviews, Viertel was suspected of operating an illegal guiding service in Ontario for wolves, bears, and deer and also was suspected of poaching on those trips. Viertel, a medically retired firefighter, was doing business as Hero Driven Outfitters during this time, a self-described nonprofit organization whose mission, as noted on the group’s Facebook page, was “to take disabled firefighters, law enforcement officers, and military personnel to the woods hunting and fishing.” Schmit was one of those clients.

As a part of this scheme, Schmit was suspected of killing a black bear illegally during his trip to Ontario and allegedly used a bear license from a mentally disabled Canadian resident to make his bear look legitimate.

“Wildlife crime knows no borders, and I commend our Canadian counterparts, Wisconsin’s conservation wardens, and our special agents for a solid investigation,” said Edward Grace, USFWS law enforcement deputy assistant director.

Along with Canadian law enforcement agents, the Wisconsin-based investigative team determined that Viertel shot and killed a timber wolf in February 2012 without having an Ontario license. The team also determined that in August 2013, Schmit traveled to Ontario with Viertel, where Schmit had shot a black bear, without a license. Schmit used a bear license from a mentally disabled Canadian resident to make his bear kill look legitimate. In both instances, Viertel falsified export documents from Ontario so he could import the carcasses into the U.S.

On June 16, Schmit pleaded guilty to a single count of violating the Lacey Act, and was sentenced to a $1,000 fine, the forfeiture of the black bear, and a ban on hunting, fishing, and trapping in North America until Jan. 1, 2019.

Following this verdict, Viertel pleaded guilty to two offenses June 21, and was sentenced to three years of probation, to include at least 25 hours per year of environmental community service, forfeiture of the wolf and black bear, and a ban on hunting, fishing, and trapping in North America until Jan. 1, 2021. Viertel also was ordered to serve the 2016 Wisconsin gun deer season, from Nov. 19-27, in the custody of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and to pay the cost of his incarceration.

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