LAWFUEL – R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Roger A. Heaton, United States Attorney for the Central District of Illinois, Eddie McKissick, Resident Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Miami Resident Office, and Tim Santel, Resident Agent in Charge, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Springfield Resident Office, announced that William D. Wessinger, Jr., 42, of Coral Springs, Florida, pled guilty and was sentenced in federal District Court in Miami on January 9, 2007, in connection with the illegal poaching of white-tail deer in Illinois during 2001 and 2003, in violation of the laws and regulations of the State of Illinois regarding the conservation and legal hunting of deer within the State, all in violation of the federal Lacey Act, Title 16, United States Code, Sections 3372 and 3373.
United States District Court Judge Patricia A. Seitz, who presided over the case after it was transferred from Illinois to Florida, accepted the guilty pleas of the defendant and proceeded to immediate sentencing. Wessinger was ordered to pay a total criminal fine of $12,000, which was directed in accordance with his plea agreement to be split equally between the federal Lacey Act Reward Fund and a Fund administered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Wessinger was further ordered to forfeit all his right, title, and interest in the deer mounts, capes, molds, and replicas resulting from his illegal hunting activity, and to forfeit a compound bow used in the illegal poaching of a trophy mount in 2003.
According to the Information filed in this matter and a statement of facts presented in Court, in separate incidents in 2001 and 2003, Wessinger traveled to Illinois to hunt white tailed deer indigenous to the State. Illinois deer are highly prized because they often are bigger and have larger antlers than deer in many other parts of the United States. A male or “buck” deer antlers are rated or scored under a system generally recognized by hunting enthusiasts. The system considers a number of measurements, the formation of the “rack,” and the number of “points” or tines of the antlers. The Boone and Crockett Club maintains standards for “trophy” deer that vary with the type of rack. “All-Time” awards list trophy animals can generate significant income to a hunter through equipment company endorsement deals, advertising fees, and sale of replica deer antlers produced from molds of the original rack. Avid hunters also prize the boasting rights and prestige of exhibiting such trophy animals.
Wessinger admitted that, contrary to various restrictions in Illinois hunting regulations, in November 2001 he elected to kill an eight point buck, although he knew he would not be allowed to harvest another antlered deer that season, and would thus forgo the opportunity to collect a larger trophy. Despite that, the following day he encountered and killed a second eight point buck and then sought to conceal his violation of Illinois law by having a second hunter tag the animal and claim it as his own kill to the Illinois department of Natural Resources. Wessinger later transported both sets of heads and antlers to Florida where he had them professionally prepared and displayed them in his home as trophies.
In 2003, Wessinger returned to Illinois and agreed to assist another hunter in locating a deer wounded two days earlier by an arrow fired by that hunter. A group, using all terrain vehicles succeeded in locating the wounded animal and Wessinger and the original hunter hit the wounded deer with multiple arrows, ultimately killing it. The original hunter asked Wessinger for assistance in getting the deer back to the location where they had left their truck so he could tag the kill. Instead, after loading the deer on his all terrain vehicle, Wessinger took the deer a few miles to a lodge where measurement of the antlers and consideration of the 32 point rack clearly identified it as an All-Time awards list trophy animal. No deer harvest tag was placed on the animal contemporaneous with the kill and none of the active hunters were in possession of hunting permits at the time, all in violation of Illinois law. Wessinger subsequently transported the antlers and cape to Florida, and had replicas of the rack produced from a mold and exhibited in his home. The original rack was secreted in a safe in his residence, from which it was seized by federal authorities pursuant to a search warrant during the investigation.
Mr. Acosta and Mr. Heaton commended the investigative efforts of the Fish & Wildlife Service, which brought the matter to a successful conclusion. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Gregory M. Gilmore from the Central District of Illinois and Thomas Watts-FitzGerald from the Southern District of Florida.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.
Attached photograph courtesy of Pike Press, Pittsfield, Illinois.