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TN: Gone from fishin': Man casts line, lands in jail

July 22, 2010

Agreement with Georgia helps send TN man to jail
Repeat offender gets two years, ban

For the first time, a Tennessee outdoorsman has been sentenced to jail time as a result of state law enforcement agents relying on the Interstate Wildlife Violator's Compact, an agreement between states to track offenders.

Kurt Wesley Ellis, 31, of Cleveland, Tenn., on probation after being convicted of multiple other offenses received two consecutive 364-day jail terms last week after being caught earlier this year fishing for trout without a license in Murray County, Ga. He also received a lifetime ban on entering any government-managed wildlife areas in Tennessee or Georgia.

Wildlife officials in Georgia were looking for Ellis after being tipped by agents from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency that Ellis was fishing streams in their state.

After pleading guilty in Tennessee to 12 wildlife violation charges last year, Ellis was on intensive probation, meaning he could leave his home only when necessary. His hunting and fishing privileges were revoked for 20 years to life after that plea, and he also received 10 days in jail and 100 hours of community service.

In 2009, Ellis was found guilty of multiple violations for illegal possession of wildlife, illegal transportation of wildlife and violation of big game tagging requirements in addition to hunting without a license and hunting on a revoked license. He has 30 total wildlife violation convictions in the state.

Tennessee and Georgia are among 34 states in the Interstate Wildlife Violator's Compact, which began in 1989 when Colorado, Nevada and Oregon joined forces. Tennessee joined in 2005, but it had never before been involved in an arrest that led to jail time.

"The Western states is where the Wildlife Violator's Compact started, where folks that pursue big game like elk and sheep would get violations in one state and then just go to another state and apply for a license and continue hunting,'' said Fred Funte, the TWRA compact coordinator who works out of the Nashville office. "With the (Driver's License Compact) if you get a speeding ticket in Georgia, for convenience, they allow you to return to your home state and pay the citation by mail.

"That's how the Wildlife Violator's Compact got set up, as a convenience to the hunter or fisherman for these minor violations so that they didn't have to post a cash bond in that state to get out of jail."

After being charged by Georgia wildlife officials with violations, including fraudulently purchasing a fishing license under a false name, Ellis was transferred back to the Bradley County jail and went before Judge Sheridan Randolph.

"The Georgia officers were super to work with,'' said TWRA officer Philip Earhart, who made initial contact with his Georgia counterparts. "The fact that we had so much history with Mr. Ellis, that he'd been caught so many times by us, it meant something special to us that we were dealing with him. And it was neat to see those guys in Georgia take as much care to it as we did with them not having all that history."

Added Funte: "The judge wasn't very happy as you can tell. He said, 'Enough's enough.' .

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