Five area juveniles are facing many citations that could reach $90,000 in fines and costs for allegedly committing wildlife crimes associated with what the Pennsylvania Game Commission called a "major poaching ring."
After a lengthy investigation, the game commission announced Thursday that five juveniles are facing charges for killing or attempting to kill 14 deer in a crime spree that spanned multiple months in Erie and Crawford counties. Two firearms have been seized during the investigation and 11 full or partial deer carcasses related to the crimes have been located.
State Game Warden Michael Stutts of Erie County is filing multiple charges against the juveniles through District Judge Denise M. Stuck-Lewis' office. The charges include 143 citations which carry fines that could total a minimum of $48,800 to a maximum of $82,000. Replacement costs, often associated with wildlife crimes, to reimburse the state's hunters could reach $11,400.
Jason Amory, an information and education supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission's northwest region, said the juveniles are a mixture of south central Erie County and north central Crawford County residents.
"They are going to have pretty extensive costs associated with them for fines and restitution and potential loss of their license for an extended period of time, so the consequences are quite severe and I don't know if they understood that," Amory said.
Amory said the infractions occurred in the fall of 2020, but refrained from providing specific details since the case is pending in court.
"The charges are outstanding, and I don't want to compromise the officers' investigation," he said.
The wildlife crimes were committed in the vicinity of Cambridge Springs and Edinboro over the course of several months, according to Amory.
Assistance was provided to Stutts by the Overt Special Investigations Unit, which is comprised of OSI Lawrence Hergenroeder and K-9 Officer Storm. The pair was utilized to assist Stutts with the recovery of forensic evidence in the field, such as carcasses and bullets, and to conduct interviews of the suspects and seize firearms.
"These two officers did a fantastic job in this case," Amory said. "I had two other cases that were like this that also involved juveniles in roughly the same area. I just closed those in 2019. Some of these individuals overlapped and they were utilizing social media platforms to communicate back and forth with one another."
This is one of three poaching rings that the game commission has dealt with in this area over the last two years, according to Amory.
"One common theme that kind of runs through all of these is these kids were just seemingly doing this for entertainment. They were bored. It was thrill kill type of thing," he said.
The poaching incidents had the potential to have gone really wrong with some severe consequences.
"You don't know what's beyond your target. You don't know who was out. These kids had loaded firearms in vehicles that could have discharged and hurt or killed someone in the vehicle," Amory said. "They could have hurt or killed someone beyond the target. They don't know if there's houses in that area."
Amory was dumbfounded at the juveniles' indifference toward wildlife, especially since some were avid hunters.
"The kids have certainly lost respect and appreciation for wildlife," he said. "They're all licensed hunters, and some of them come from hunting families. It's hard to understand where they lost that connection and how they didn't value the life of these animals at all."
For questions or to offer information regarding this case, contact the Northwest Regional Office by calling 814-432-3187.
The game commission's northwest region covers a 10-county territory that includes Crawford, Erie, Warren, Forest, Venango, Mercer, Butler, Lawrence, Jefferson and Clarion.