Hunting News

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Two Texas Fishermen Sentenced for False Statements to Law Enforcement Agents



Jamal Marshall was sentenced to six months imprisonment and six months home confinement today following a hearing in federal district court in Houston, Texas, for making false statements to law enforcement agents regarding the illegal harvest of snapper in the Gulf of Mexico.  A second fisherman, Jacob Brown, was previously sentenced on November 29, 2017, to 2 months imprisonment and 4 months home confinement.  The sentences were announced by Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Office for Law Enforcement.

In August 2017, Marshall and Brown pleaded guilty to making false statements to agents with the Coast Guard Investigative Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – Office of Law Enforcement.  According to court documents filed at the time of the plea, the two illegally harvested more than 1,900 pounds of fish, including 642 snapper, weighing approximately 1,846 pounds.  The two subsequently lied to law enforcement agents regarding the possession of these fish in order to hide their illegal harvest from Texas waters.

“This case highlights the superb partnership between Texas Parks and Wildlife, NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement, and the Coast Guard here in southeast Texas,” said Capt. Kevin Oditt, Commander of the Coast Guard Sector Houston/Galveston. “As a team, we work together to enforce laws that ensure the sustainability of our fisheries. In protecting our living marine resources, we also protect the livelihoods of commercial fishermen and the ability of recreational anglers to enjoy the sport for generations to come.”

“I am extremely proud of the combined effort by the USCG, NOAA, and Texas Game Wardens who work tirelessly day and night to protect of our natural resources in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Col. Grahame Jones of the Texas Parks and Wildlife's Law Enforcement Division.

Reef fish, such as red snapper and vermilion snapper, provide significant economic benefits to the state of Texas from both commercial and recreational fishing.  Red snapper, the most popular reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico, are a top predator in the Gulf ecosystem, prized among recreational fishermen, and a valued offering at restaurants.  Unsustainable catch rates have led to declines in the populations of these two fish. At their lowest point, vermilion snapper stocks were estimated to be at 20 percent of their historical abundance, and red snapper stocks were estimated to be at only three percent.

The case was investigated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – Office of Law Enforcement, the Coast Guard Investigative Service, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Two Brothers Sentenced to 21 Months and 16 Months in Prison for Illegally Trafficking Threatened Alligator Snapping Turtles



Travis Leger of Sulphur, Louisiana, and his half-brother Jason Leckelt of Wilburton, Oklahoma, were sentenced today in federal court in Beaumont, Texas, to 21 months and 16 months in prison, respectively, followed by three years of supervised release for conspiring to violate the Lacey Act by illegally trafficking alligator snapping turtles.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and Acting U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston of the Eastern District of Texas made the announcement.

The third defendant in the case, Rickey Simon of Sulphur, Louisiana, was sentenced to three years of probation.  U.S. District Court Judge Marcia A. Crone ordered the sentences. 

Alligator snapping turtles are among the largest freshwater turtles in the world and can grow to weigh more than 200 pounds with a lifespan of more than 100 years.  The turtles are designated as threatened with statewide extinction under Texas State Law, which strictly prohibits anyone from taking, capturing, transporting, or selling these turtles, or attempting to do so.  The turtles are also protected under Louisiana State Law, which makes it illegal to sell or barter for the turtles.  The Lacey Act makes it a crime to engage in the interstate trafficking of wildlife taken in violation of state wildlife protection laws.

“The illegal trafficking of wildlife undermines the vital conservation work being done to protect imperiled species like the alligator snapping turtle,” said Edward Grace, Acting Chief of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. ‘Today's sentencing will hopefully serve as a deterrent to others seeking to exploit and profit from the illegal wildlife trade. I applaud the hard work of everyone here at the Service, as well as our partners at Texas Parks and Wildlife and Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, for their dedication to the pursuit of justice in cases such as this.”

On August 22, 2017, Leger, Leckelt, and Simon all pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge.  As part of his guilty plea, Travis Leger admitted to selling a live, illegally taken 171-pound turtle, for $1,000 and another live, illegally taken 168-pound turtle, for $500 in May and June of 2016.  The turtles were later seized by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agents from the buyer.  Simon admitted that he sold an illegally-trafficked, 120-pound turtle to an undercover Special Agent of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on May 19, 2016.

“This investigation illustrates the outstanding working relationship Texas Game Wardens have with our counterparts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries,” said Col. Grahame Jones, Director of Law Enforcement with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. “We commend the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Justice Department for their efforts to bring these miscreants to justice.”

In April of 2017, Leger, Leckelt, and Simon were all charged in a six-count Indictment.  The conspiracy charged all the defendants with illegally taking more than 60 large turtles during multiple fishing trips they took to Texas in the spring and summer of 2016, and then transporting the turtles back to a property in Sulphur, Louisiana, for sale.  Leger admitted that the market value of all the turtles that he caught illegally in Texas and then sold in Louisiana during the course of the conspiracy was between $40,000 and $95,000.  The market value of the turtles that were illegally trafficked by Leckelt was between $15,000 and $40,000. 

In July of 2016, Federal agents seized about 30 large turtles from ponds located at Leger’s property in Sulphur, Louisiana, pursuant to a federal search warrant.  As part of his guilty plea, Leger agreed to forfeit all of the seized turtles and will permit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to return to his property, drain the ponds, and seize any turtles remaining in the ponds.  All of the turtles seized by the government in this case will be cared for at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Natchitoches Fish Hatchery in Louisiana and used as part of a breeding program to restock the species in its native waterways in the southwestern United States.

In a related case, Montaro Alabimo Williams of Elton, Louisiana, pleaded guilty on December 6, 2017, in federal court in Beaumont, Texas, to a misdemeanor violation of the Lacey Act for knowingly attempting to transport two alligator snapping turtles, which he illegally caught in Texas, to Louisiana on August 12, 2013.  The maximum statutory sentence for this crime is a fine of not more than $100,000 and prison for not more than one year. 

Senior Trial Attorney David P. Kehoe of the Department of Justice, Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph R. Batte of the Eastern District of Texas prosecuted the case.  The case is being investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

2017 Southeast Regional Animal Cruelty Prosecutions Training Held at Valdosta State University



The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia, the Environmental Crimes Section of the United States Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, and the United States Department of Agriculture – Office of Inspector General hosted training for the Southeast region on animal cruelty prosecutions, Dec. 13-14.

Staff from the US Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia, Environment and Natural Resources Division, the United States Department of Agriculture – Office of Inspector General & the Humane Society provided training on animal cruelty prosecutions.

This training represents the collaboration and coordination of federal and local agencies and offices to combat crimes of animal cruelty, including organized dog fighting, cock fighting, and horse soring. The conference provided participants with an overview of the federal animal welfare and cruelty statutes, investigation techniques, and strategies to overcome prosecution challenges. The Humane Society of the United States, along with prosecutors and federal agents, shared their experience in handling dog fighting and animal cruelty cases strengthening the response to these serious crimes.

“Fighting contests involving dogs and other animals are morally wrong and illegal, said United States Attorney Charles E. Peeler.” They also create havens for additional illegal conduct such as gambling, drug trade and unlawful gun possession.  Our office works with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to identify and prosecute those involved in this reprehensible conduct.”

“Ending animal fighting ventures and other inhumane practices will require a close partnership among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Our Division is proud to be a leader in this worthy cause and to participate in this important training event in the wonderful city of Valdosta, Georgia.”

“The USDA OIG is pleased to have worked closely with the Department of Justice to coordinate this important training initiative to combat animal fighting and the associated crimes which often occur in animal fighting ventures,” said Special Agent in Charge Karen Citizen-Wilcox for the USDA OIG Southeast Region Office of Investigations. “Special Agents from all of the OIG’s regional offices will share their knowledge of and experiences with animal fighting investigations with personnel attending from other law enforcement agencies and private organizations.”

During the training, animal fighting investigators from the Humane Society of the United States, along with prosecutors and USDA OIG agents who have successfully investigated and prosecuted animal fighting cases, shared their experiences with attendees. Instructors provided participants with an overview of the business of dog fighting, a description of federal animal welfare and cruelty statutes, effective investigative techniques, evidence collection best practices, available resources and authorities for the seizure and post-seizure care of animals and successful sentencing strategies.



State and national animal control associations estimate that upwards of 40,000 people participate in dog fighting in the United States at a professional level, meaning that dog fighting and its associated gambling are their primary or only source of income. An unknown but potentially larger number of people participate in dog fighting on an occasional basis. Cockfighting is thought to be similarly widespread. In addition, animal fighting activities attract other serious crimes, such as gambling, drug dealing, weapons offenses and money laundering. Children are commonly present at animal fighting events.



The federal Animal Welfare Act makes it a felony punishable by up to five years in prison to knowingly sell, buy, possess, train, transport, deliver, or receive any animal, including dogs, for purposes of having the animal participate in an animal fighting venture. In 2014, the Department of Justice designated the Environment and Natural Resources Division as the centralized body within the Department responsible for tracking, coordinating, and working with the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices on animal cruelty enforcement matters.