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, 2016 that the two Milwaukee-area men have 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 of wildlife into the United States that had been killed in Ontario, Canada, 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 illegal hunting activities of Reid Viertel, age 41 of West Allis, Wisconsin, and various associates, including Terry Schmit, age 43 of Franklin, Wisconsin. These complaints were partly based on public Facebook posts by Viertel and Schmit where they bragged about their successful hunting trips in Canada.
As a part of their investigation, Canadian officials reached out to a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to interview the men. Together, with assistance from wardens with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Bureau of Law Enforcement, 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 to hunt for wolves, bear and white-tailed deer and was also suspected of poaching on those trips. Viertel, a medically-retired firefighter, was doing business as Hero Driven Outfitters during this time, a self-described non-profit 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 in Ontario and allegedly used a bear license from a mentally disabled Canadian resident to make his black 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, Deputy Assistant Director for Law Enforcement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “I would also like to thank U.S. Attorney Gregory J. Haanstad and his team for prosecuting this case and holding these violators accountable,” continued Grace.
Along with Canadian law enforcement agents, our Wisconsin-based investigative team determined that Viertel shot and killed a timber wolf in February 2012 without having an Ontario license. Collectively, the team also determined that in August 2013, Schmit traveled to Ontario with Viertel, where Schmit had shot and killed a black bear, also 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 for the purpose of importing the animal carcasses into the United States illegally.
“This case illustrates the partnership that takes place among conservation agencies,” said Todd Schaller, Chief Warden – Bureau of Law Enforcement with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “Multiple agencies and different countries working together for resource protection and law-abiding citizens in all countries,” continued Schaller.
On June 16, 2016, 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 / or trapping in North America until January 1, 2019. Following this verdict, Viertel pleaded guilty to two offenses on June 21, 2016, 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 / or trapping in North America until January 1, 2021. Viertel was also ordered to serve the 2016 deer gun season from November 19 through November 27 in the custody of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and to pay the cost of his incarceration.
In the court proceedings, U.S. Attorney Haanstad explained that, “the prosecution of offenders who intentionally violate wildlife laws helps protect and preserve natural resources both within and outside the United States.” U.S. Attorney Haanstad thanked all involved for their work and cooperation on this and similar investigations. The prosecution was handled by Assistant U.S Attorney Paul L. Kanter.
This court case follows on the heels of the Canadian proceedings from December 2015 where Viertel and Schmit were convicted and collectively fined a total of $11,000 for a number of infractions. In addition to these fines, Viertel lost his Canadian hunting privileges for 15 years and Schmit’s lost his for five years.
The Lacey Act is a federal law enforced by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service that makes it illegal to knowingly transport or sell wildlife taken in violation of state, federal, tribal and foreign laws or regulations. The Act defines the sale of wildlife to include the sale of guiding services for the illegal taking of wildlife. When the Lacey Act was passed in 1900, it became the first federal law to protect wildlife. It enforces civil and criminal penalties for the illegal trade of animals and plants. Today, it regulates the import of any species protected by international or domestic law and prevents the spread of invasive, or non-native, species.