(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.)
Deer taken over bait
On Dec. 10, Robert Nelson of Esopus paid $605 in fines and surcharges to Esopus Town Court related to the illegal taking of a deer and using bait during his hunt. ECO Jeannette Bastedo received a tip on Nov. 6 that an individual took a deer the prior day in an area known to be baited in past hunting seasons. Bastedo responded to the area and located a pile of feed approximately 15 yards from a treestand, as well as a blood trail that started less than four feet from the bait pile. The ECO followed the blood trail, found a pair of gloves left in the woods, and collected the gloves for DNA purposes. Armed with this evidence, Bastedo and ECO Lucas Palmateer interviewed Nelson about his hunt on Nov. 5. At first, the subject told the officers that he didn’t know the bait was there until he was dragging the deer out. Eventually, he admitted he had placed the bait in the area approximately one week before his hunt in order to attract deer. Nelson was charged with the misdemeanor of illegally taking a deer and a violation of hunting with the aid of bait. After reaching a civil compromise, he was ordered to pay fines. The deer was seized and donated.
Illegal hunting in the big city
On Dec. 12, ECO Michael Wozniak responded to a complaint of a deer running through a wooded park in Staten Island with an orange arrow sticking out of its neck. Wozniak picked up a blood trail and began tracking the injured deer. Due to inclement weather, the officer discontinued the search. The ECO later spotted an individual acting suspiciously near where the injured deer was last seen. After questioning, the individual provided Wozniak with a home address but the wrong identification. Wozniak, with assistance from ECO Ryan Grogan, went to the address and continued questioning the man, who was later identified as John Anderson of Staten Island. In a written statement, Anderson confessed to shooting the deer while target shooting with his recurve bow. The ECOs seized both the bow and additional arrows from the home for evidence. Anderson was issued a notice of violation for hunting big game without a hunting license and for taking antlerless deer in a closed area without a permit. The subject paid a $1,000 penalty, with an additional $1,000 suspended penalty in the event he does not violate any further state Environmental Conservation Laws in a two-year period.
Man burns demolished buildings
On Dec. 14, ECO Jeannette Bastedo responded to a complaint of an illegal open burn in the town of Hurley. Upon arrival, the ECO met with the Hurley Fire Chief and New York State Police. Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. also responded because the fire was near electric lines and the utility needed to cut power to the property. The joint investigation determined that someone intentionally set fire to portions of a demolished building on the property to dispose of the building. Further investigation revealed that other buildings on the property were also being demolished and possibly burned. Pennsylvania resident Kenneth Coulter was charged with prohibited open burn of non-exempt materials and illegal disposal of solid waste. Coulter was immediately arraigned in Hurley Town Court and offered a plea deal. He pleaded guilty to two lower violations of the state Environmental Conservation Law and was fined $1,600.
Shop with a cop
On Dec.14, ECO Chloe Swansen joined other state and local police agencies in the “Shop with a Cop” Christmas event hosted by radio station WRRV at the Poughkeepsie Galleria in Dutchess County. During the event, participating children are paired with an officer and given a gift card to spend at any store in the Galleria. The children were nominated anonymously through the radio station. Swansen was paired with a young boy named Calvin who loves being outdoors. Calvin chose a camping tent, a Nerf gun almost as long as he is tall and a dinosaur mask that roars when the mouth opens. The children also got a surprise visit from Santa Claus. All gift cards were funded through donations and fundraisers.
Dumping caught on camera
After receiving multiple complaints of solid waste dumped in the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Queens County, ECO Jeffrey Johnston and Environmental Conservation Investigator Sara Komonchak set up a DEC Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigation (BECI) trail camera near the dump sites. After a few days, ECOs observed a large pile of garbage bags in the vicinity of the trail cam. After reviewing the pictures, a white pickup truck without a visible license plate was pictured along with a suspect dumping the waste. Johnston went through the trash pile for further evidence and discovered the same address on multiple pieces of trash. Further investigation revealed that a company was hired to remove trash after a home eviction. When questioned, the trash removal company produced a forged receipt claiming the waste was dumped at a licensed solid waste management facility. After interviewing the suspect, Kennard Codrington of Jamaica, Queens County, and presenting him with the original receipt and multiple photographs of him discarding the waste, he admitted to illegally disposing of the solid waste in the refuge. Codrington was issued a New York City summons for unlawful disposal of solid waste returnable to Queens County Criminal Court. He appeared on Dec. 17, was found guilty, and paid an $875 fine.
Joint detail with New Jersey
On Dec. 28, DEC Marine Enforcement Unit officers Waldemar Auguscinski and Paul Pansini, along with Richmond County ECOs Max Woyton and Shane Currey, worked an overnight commercial fishing detail in New York Harbor. Patrolling with New Jersey Conservation Officers, the joint detail boarded several commercial fishing vessels. The New Jersey officers issued two tickets to a commercial dredger for failure to have a valid dredging permit and dredging at night, which is illegal in New Jersey waters.
On Dec. 31, ECOs Timothy Card and Dustin Osborne rescued a bald eagle from the shore of Schenevus Creek in Schenevus, Otsego County. Officers transported the eagle, which was unable to fly, to a wildlife rehabilitator in Greene County.
On March 7, 2019, ECOs Brent Wilson and Andy Kostuk delivered presentations at the Spencer-Van Etten Middle School’s Career Day, which introduces 7th and 8th grade students to various career fields. The ECOs spoke for about 20 minutes to four classes of approximately 15 students each. The officers described the day-to-day adventures of being an ECO, an overview on Environmental Conservation Law, and the role ECOs play in the protection and preservation of the state’s natural resources.
Burning down the house
On Feb. 26, ECO Jerry Kinney responded to a complaint of an illegal open fire in the town of Poland. Kinney arrived to find that an entire house had been demolished and was being burned to the ground. There were two large piles of debris burning on site, including drywall, roofing shingles, metal, and insulation. Due to the size of the fires, the Kennedy Fire Department responded to put the flames down. Kinney ticketed the owner of the property for illegal disposal of solid waste and open burning of prohibited material.
A better home for turtles
(New York County)
On March 8, 2019, ECOs Jacob Jankowski and Michael Wozniak responded to a report that a two-foot-long, 50-pound snapping turtle was being kept illegally in poor conditions in a home in Manhattan. An elderly woman had taken the turtle in as a pet 20 years ago, and was no longer able to care for it. She had planned to have someone help her release the turtle into a nearby city pond. It is illegal to keep native wildlife without a permit from DEC. The officers also found four red-eared sliders, a semi-aquatic turtle, living in plastic totes. Red-eared sliders are legal to possess in New York as pets and are commonly found in many pet stores. However, these turtles are an invasive species and should not be released into the wild. The ECOs gave the woman a warning and explained the laws regarding wildlife being kept as pets and releasing invasive species into the ecosystem. The turtles were seized and turned over to the Animal Care Centers of New York City, an adoption agency that takes in homeless and abandoned animals and works with wildlife refuges and rehabilitators to find homes for injured animals and other wildlife.
On March 9, 2019, ECOs Ryan Grogan and Josh Harvey set up a meeting with a subject offering leopard and crocodilian pelts for sale on Craigslist. After viewing the leopard pelts, Grogan determined they were fake leopard skins. However, when asked if the crocodilian pelt was still available, the subject replied that it was, for $150. Upon viewing the pelt, the officers confirmed its authenticity and the seller was issued a summons for sale of endangered species without a permit. The pelt was confiscated.
Injured bald eagles
(Delaware and Dutchess counties)
On March 10, 2019, ECO Nathan Doig received a call from New York City Department of Environmental Protection Officer Brad Sherburne reporting an injured bald eagle in Delaware County, close to the shore of the Cannonsville Reservoir in the town of Deposit. Working together, the officers captured the juvenile eagle, which was suffering from a broken wing. Doig transported it to Friends of the Feathered and Furry Wildlife Center for rehabilitation.
On March 16, 2019, ECO Zach Crain responded to a report of an injured bald eagle at a dairy farm in Dover Plains. With help from the farmer, Crain captured the bird and transported it to Green Chimneys Wildlife and Education Center. The staff at Green Chimneys determined the eagle was a full-grown adult female at least five years old, which had likely suffered a fracture in its right wing. Both eagles will be cared for while they recover and will be released back into the wild when they regain full strength.
Valentine’s Day special: Alligator feet
On Feb. 14, ECO Jeff Johnston received a call from a New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene inspector regarding six alligator feet found in a walk-in freezer during a restaurant inspection in Queens County. In New York, it is unlawful to possess and offer for sale alligators or their parts without a valid permit from DEC. Johnston and ECO Ryan Kelley responded to the restaurant, which was shut down by the inspector for unsanitary conditions. After verifying the restaurant did not hold a valid permit to possess and sell alligator parts, the alligator feet were seized as evidence and three NYC summonses were issued for illegal commercialization of wildlife, possessing alligator parts, and offering alligator parts for sale without a permit. All three summonses were sent to Queens County Criminal Court.