48 arrested in poaching bust
By Ed Culhane
Post-Crescent staff writer
In the largest case of its kind ever filed in Wisconsin, 48 people from 11 states have been charged with violating state game laws in search of trophy deer and turkey.
The outfitter and guide who arranged these “hunts” —Adam Lee Lawinger, 27, of Blue River Outfitters in Blue River —is facing two federal felony charges for selling and conspiring to sell wild deer and wild turkey and for transporting illegally obtained wildlife across state lines.
Wardens with the state Department of Natural Resources said the focus was on bagging trophy animals that were shipped to taxidermists in and out of state for mounting. The “hunters” violated numerous game and licensing laws, including hunting without licenses, hunting out of season and hunting over bait in Richland and Iowa counties, where baiting is illegal.
“Most of the deer were shot over bait,” said DNR Warden Supervisor Tom Krsnich. “In some cases, they were shooting at night. In others, they were shooting with guns during the bow season. In most cases, the meat was disposed of. They didn’t take much meat.”
Lawinger faces up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on each federal count.
Three of Lawinger’s clients or associates each face a federal charge in the western district of Wisconsin, for the illegal purchase and interstate transport of illegally obtained wildlife. They are Tod Moore, 41, of Mechanicsburg, Pa.; Geff Godfrey, 42, of Lillian, Ala.; and Thomas Shea, 432, of Panama City Beach, Florida. Each faces up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.
A total of 45 state charges have been filed in Iowa and Richland counties against 42 “hunters” from Texas, Alabama, California, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, South Dakota and Wisconsin. Charges include hunting deer or turkey without a license, transporting untagged deer and turkey, failing to register deer or turkey, transporting a loaded firearm in a vehicle.
Each of these individuals faces thousands of dollars in fines and forfeitures and revocation of hunting and fishing privileges in Wisconsin.
According to documents filed in federal court in Madison, state wildlife officials received several tips that Lawinger was running an illegal hunting operation. A Minnesota man contacted wildlife officials in his home state after becoming upset with the way Lawinger conducted the hunt, court records indicate.
Following an anonymous tip and other complaints, state and federal agents went undercover and conducted a 2-year investigation, DNR officials said. DNR wardens, accompanied by agents with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, traveled to California, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida. USFWS agents conducted interviews in other states, sometimes accompanied by conservation wardens from those jurisdictions.
“It’s the largest deer case we have ever put together,” Krsnich said.
Investigators seized mounts and weapons during the investigation. At a press conference today in Richland County, officials displayed 27 trophy shoulder deer mounts, a full deer mount, three turkey mounts and several antler mounts.
Two of the shoulder mounts and the full deer mount featured antlers still in velvet, the soft covering tissue that buck deer rub off, generally before hunting seasons open.
Chief Warden Randy Stark said that since the days of Theodore Roosevelt, wildlife management in North America has been founded on the premise that wildlife belongs to everyone.
“In the final analysis,” Stark said, “these alleged violations endanger the public, frustrate efforts to manage wildlife resources, undermine fair chase principles and the image of hunting, and steal opportunities for that one-in-a-lifetime chance at a trophy animal from law abiding hunters. That’s why this case is important.”