Wildlife crime costs Georgia man a record $1.6 million

A deer trafficking conspiracy will cost a Climax man $1.6 million in fines and restitution, giving him the distinction of being ordered to pay the largest sum ever levied on an individual for a U.S. wildlife crime, a federal agency says.

The scheme was busted when wildlife officials noticed deer noses and antlers inside a cargo trailer on I-71 South in Ohio. Later, authorities accused Benjamin N. Chason, of Climax, Georgia, and a co-conspirator of attempting to ship uncertified deer to Georgia.

A white-tailed buck in Georgia. (Photo by Charles Seabrook)To get around federal law requiring interstate shipments of deer to be certified as disease-free, Chason and Donald Wainwright Jr. placed federal identification tags from a certified deer that had previously died into the ear of an uncertified deer they were selling. They then sold breeding services and semen from the deer to breeders around the United States, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The men also sold illegal deer hunts at a high-fence preserve, Valley View Whitetails of Ohio, charging customers from around the country $1,000 to $50,000, the federal agency said.

Chason pleaded guilty in 2014 to three charges related to violating the Lacey Act. He and Wainwright were owners of Valley View Whitetails in Ohio, and Chason also owned an extensive high-fenced property in Climax containing white-tailed deer.

His sentence was unsealed Monday. In addition to the fine, he was ordered to serve three years probation and four months of home confinement. A news releases states that he also agreed to publish a statement in North American Whitetail Magazine and do 150 hours of community service in an Ohio or Georgia state park.

Wainwright, Sr. pleaded guilty in February. He was sentenced to 21 months in prison and a $125,000 fine. The judge also ordered him to perform 200 hours of community service in a parks system and to publish an article in The Deer Breeders Gazette.

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