(Editor’s note: A criminal charge is merely an allegation that a defendant has committed a violation of the criminal law, and it is not evidence of guilt. All defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial, during which it will be the state of New York’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.)
Guilty plea in ivory bust
On Dec.19, Doris Ellen Eber of Brighton pleaded guilty in Monroe County Court to one count of illegal commercialization of elephant ivory in excess of $1,500, a Class E felony under Environmental Conservation Law. A New York State law enacted in 2014 makes it illegal to sell nearly all elephant ivory in the state, as well as mammoth ivory and rhinoceros horn. In late 2018, DEC’s Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigator Mark Wojtkowiak began an undercover investigation into the illegal sale of elephant ivory via the Internet and eventually charged Eber with the crime. Eber was sentenced to a one-year conditional discharge, a $5,000 fine in the form of a donation to the World Wildlife Fund, restitution to the state in the amount of $3,240, forfeiture of 13 ivory items seized during the investigation, and a court-mandated DNA fee of $50. The case was prosecuted by the Monroe County District Attorney’s office.
Sentenced for illegal dumping
On Nov. 27, Carl J. Rivers of Albion, Orleans County, was sentenced to one to three years in prison for his role in illegally dumping asbestos waste in Genesee County. The charges followed an investigation conducted by DEC’s Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigation into the illegal dumping of approximately 20 bags of friable asbestos and other household and demolition debris. The crime occurred on the Tonawanda Wildlife Management Area in the town of Alabama in May 2018. With forensic evidence obtained from the illegal dump site, investigators identified Rivers as a person of interest. During an interview with investigators, Rivers admitted to dumping the asbestos waste and the other debris and he was arrested on Jan. 3, 2019. In addition to the prison sentence, Rivers is required to pay restitution to the state in the amount of $13,347.07 for cleanup costs, and $667.35 in surcharges. BECI lead investigator Mark Wojtkowiak worked closely with the Genesee County District Attorney’s office on the prosecution of the case. Also assisting in the investigation was the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division, New York State Department of Labor’s Asbestos Control Bureau, and DEC’s Division of Law Enforcement Environmental Forensic Unit.
They don’t want to learn
On Jan. 14, 2019, ECO Bob Hodor was on patrol in Poughkeepsie when he observed a tractor-trailer being loaded with waste tires at a tire dealer. From a distance, the trailer did not appear to be marked properly. Hodor followed the truck when it left and could not identify permit numbers on the trailer. The officer stopped the vehicle and confirmed his suspicions – the driver couldn’t produce a permit. Tickets were issued to the New Jersey-based hauling company for failure to carry a permit in the vehicle and failure to display permit numbers. Hodor returned to the tire dealer and spotted a second truck from another waste hauling company, also from New Jersey. Again, a vehicle stop resulted in violations, and tickets were issued for failure to carry a permit in the vehicle and failure to display permit numbers as required. On Jan. 16, 2019, Hodor checked the tire dealer again and discovered the two trucking companies at the location loading their trailers with waste tires. This time, one of the trailers had the required permit number displayed. However, tickets were again issued to the other trailer for transporting regulated waste without a permit and failure to display permit numbers.
Injured owl rescued
On Nov. 30, ECO John Walraven received a call from the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Department requesting assistance for an injured owl in the village of Monticello. The owl was struck by a vehicle and was having difficulty flying. Walraven rescued the owl and transported it to a local wildlife rehabilitator for medical treatment and recovery.
Specialized UTV training
On Jan. 16, 2019, ECOs from across the state attended a utility task vehicle (UTV) training course at the DEC Division of Law Enforcement’s (DLE) training facility in Oswego County. The training consisted of a classroom session followed by several live courses in the operation of DLE’s specialized tracked UTVs. ECOs John Helmeyer, Kurt Bush, Shane Manns, Tim Worden and Lt. Steve Bartoszewski led the training. The ECOs who attended the training are now be able to provide expertise and training to other officers in their respective regions.
City dumper nabbed
On Jan. 19, 2019, ECO Don Damrath and Syracuse Police Officer Carlos Romain culminated a weeklong investigation of illegal dumping at several sites around Syracuse with an arrest. The unlawfully dumped materials included auto parts, waste oil, waste tires, and general household trash. The suspect erred by dumping evidence linking the precise source of the waste to the crime scene. He also disposed of some of the waste in a vacant lot directly adjacent to the business that generated it. The man was charged with several city code violations, the unlawful disposal of solid waste, and unlawful disposal of regulated waste. With a major winter storm approaching, Damrath ensured clean-up of the dump sites before the storm dumped up to 20 inches of snow on the trash piles.
Injured red-tailed hawk
On Jan. 20, 2019, ECO Jeannette Bastedo responded to a report of injured red-tailed hawk in Wawarsing. The hawk had last been seen by a homeowner on his wood pile and appeared to have an injured wing. The hawk demonstrated uncharacteristic behavior when it didn’t attempt to fly when the homeowner approached to investigate. A wildlife rehabilitator assisted in the response, but when the officer and the rehabilitator arrived at the home, the hawk had moved to a nearby tree. The hawk hopped further out on a branch and then fell to the ground. Bastedo and the rehabilitator captured the bird and transported it to another wildlife rehabilitator who specializes in treating injured raptors.
Green, gray, and blue solve the case
On Jan. 15, 2019, Sullivan County 911 received a complaint from a Grahamsville resident who heard several gunshots followed by the sound of a bullet hitting his garage. New York State Troopers responded and requested ECOs to assist. Prior to ECO Ricky Wood’s arrival, NYC Department of Environmental Protection Police also responded and found two men at a house on an adjacent road. The pair stated they were target shooting with a .308 rifle from the porch of a house. There was a target on a tree at the edge of the yard that appeared to be directly in line with the complainant’s garage. The subjects said they shot a total of five or six times and gave a trooper three spent .308 shell casings. Wood then deployed K-9 Deming, who found another casing in the grass and one near the end of the porch. Wood determined that the subjects had fired from just over 300 feet without the permission of the occupants. The two men were arrested and charged by state police with reckless endangerment 2nd degree. Wood issued tickets to the subjects for discharging a firearm within 500 feet of an occupied dwelling. The subjects were released to appear in Neversink Town Court.
Social media posts reveal violations
On Jan. 23, 2019, ECOs Brett Armstrong, Mary Grose, Matt Burdick, Andy Kostuk and Lt. Will Burnell executed a search warrant in Norwich as the result of an ongoing investigation by Armstrong into reports of individuals harboring raccoons as pets. The possession of live, wild raccoons is both a violation of state law and a health hazard, as raccoons are a rabies vector species. Upon execution of the warrant, the ECOs found 13 people, including children, living in the house. There was evidence that the raccoons had been kept there but had since been sold to another Norwich resident. Moving quickly, ECOs responded to the second location, where the two raccoons were voluntarily turned over. The new owner reported they had been bitten by one of the raccoons. ECOs recommended the person visit a doctor immediately, and the Chenango County Department of Health was determining whether any of the individuals exposed to the animals will be required to undergo the rabies vaccine series. The animals were transported to a local veterinarian to be euthanized and tested for the rabies virus. Charges for harboring the animals were pending completion of the investigation and identification of additional suspects. DEC reminds New Yorkers that all wildlife should remain wild, and serious problems can arise when humans interfere with animals. Visit DEC’s website to learn more.