published Saturday, June 15th, 2013

Men get federal prison time for poaching bears

RALEIGH, N.C. — A federal magistrate sentenced seven men to prison time for poaching bears and deer and other illegal hunting activities in national forests in North Carolina and Georgia.

U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins from the Western District of North Carolina said Friday that the convictions were the result of a four-year undercover investigation called Operation Something Bruin. Officers from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, U.S. Forest Service and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources used social media to infiltrate poaching circles and document violations.

Ten defendants pleaded guilty and were sentenced this week, with seven receiving prison terms of up to 30 days.

“We anticipate that the success of Operation Something Bruin will send a strong message to poachers and would-be violators to think twice before they engage in illegal hunting activities,” Tompkins said. “Together with our federal and state law enforcement partners we will combine forces to combat illegal hunting, protect our wildlife and conserve our natural resources.”

Officials announced in February that the operation had netted 81 people on a total of 980 violations that included bear baiting, the illegal use of dogs, operating illegal bear enclosures and hunting on federal lands without required permits. The offenses occurred in the Nantahala National Forest and Pisgah National Forest.

Those sentenced this week before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis L. Howell include Chad Burchfield, 34; Patrick Burchfield, 24; Jessie Jenkins, 23; all of Robbinsville, N.C. They pleaded guilty to hunting feral swine at night and were sentenced to 30 days in prison and prohibited from hunting or fishing for two years.

Kenneth Collins, 44; Casey Collins, 26; and Michael Sellers, 20, also of Robbinsville, pleaded guilty to providing a hunting guide service on National Forest land without a permit. They were sentenced to 30 days in prison and had their hunting and fishing rights revoked for two years.

Ricky Owens, 48, of Robbinsville, pleaded guilty to one count of failure to obtain a special use permit needed to operate a commercial activity on National Forest land. He was sentenced to 15 days in prison.

Robert Watson, 46, of Morganton, N.C., pleaded guilty to one count of aiding and abetting the illegal taking of a black bear. He was sentenced to 30 days in prison.

Terry Ratliff, 55, of Opelika, Ala., was ordered to pay $1,500 for driving on a closed U.S. Forest Service Road.

Brian Quacca, 41, of Groesbeck, Texas, pleaded guilty on May 25 to one count of using the National Forest Service for commercial purposes without the required permit.

Brent Fox of Morganton entered a plea of guilty to one count of illegal taking of a black bear and is still awaiting sentencing.

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