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Bellevue OH man must pay $27,851 in restitution for hunting deer without permission

May 27, 2011

By D'Arcy Egan, The Plain Dealer

Arlie Risner of Bellevue says he had no clue he'd be handed a bill from the Ohio Division of Wildlife for $27,851, a record amount of restitution sought for illegally killing a trophy Ohio deer. He just wanted to be done with a charge in Norwalk Municipal Court of hunting deer without permission.

"I couldn't afford the $6,000 my attorney, Neil McKown (of Shelby), said it would cost to go to trial, so he told me to plead no contest," said Riser.
On Feb. 23, Risner was fined $200 by Judge John S. Ridge and had his Ohio hunting privileges suspended for a year.

In early April, said Risner, he received a registered letter from Ken Fitz of the Ohio Division of Wildlife, who handles restitution cases. The wildlife agency wanted $27,851 in restitution for the trophy non-typical buck. Wildlife officers had already confiscated the antlers, which scored
228 6/8 inches, according to the Boone & Crockett scoring system that sets the restitution amount.

"It was pay up, or I can't buy a hunting or fishing license," said Risner, who has a small tree service.

It's far worse than that. Risner, 58, a lifelong angler and hunter, must write a check to the wildlife agency in the next few months, said Fitz, or the Attorney General's office will be called in to collect the restitution.

At the heart of the controversy is Risner's claim he wasn't illegally hunting on CSX railroad property near Willard on Nov. 10, 2010. He says he was in a tree stand on his cousin's small property nearby when he saw the deer for the first time, and shot it at 8:30 a.m. with an arrow from his crossbow. Risner said the wounded deer ran to the CSX property and died.

Risner had a hunting license and deer permit. He dutifully took the deer to a local check station.

Getting a tip about Risner's deer, Huron County Wildlife Officer Josh Zientek and Wildlife Investigator Jeff Collingwood investigated. They are sure Risner was hunting railroad land, where Homeland Security rules don't allow hunting or trespassing of any kind. Both railroad security officials and wildlife officers say they will arrest anyone caught on the restricted lands.

"When I followed the blood trail from my cousin's property, where I was hunting, I did go on the railroad property to retrieve the deer," said Risner. "My friend Randy Oney helped me load the deer on a four-wheeler. I'm still recovering from colon cancer four years ago, and couldn't do it by myself. Oney also ended up getting cited for hunting without permission for helping me."

Risner had never before been cited for a fishing or hunting violation. His only tickets had been for speeding and a seat belt violation.

"We found the tree with the appropriate scrapes where Risner had placed his tree stand, as well as fresh bait piles containing corn," said Collingwood.
"We found all of the deer blood on CSX property, and none on his cousin's property. We took DNA samples to make sure we had the right deer. None of the information we got from Risner was accurate, according to the evidence."

"I'm 100 percent positive Risner was hunting on railroad property," said Zientek.

"Risner admitted being dishonest with the wildlife officer in a phone call about the restitution," said Fitz. "He apologized for that."

"I never told (Fitz) that," said Risner. "It's their word versus my word. I would have gone all the way (in court) if I'd known about the restitution. I would have borrowed the money to fight it."

Now it's too late.

Penalties around Ohio now much stiffer for trespassing, poaching trophy deer

The penalties for killing a trophy white-tailed deer in Ohio were seldom a deterrent, but that has changed in recent years as stricter trespassing rules and restitution laws were put in place.

To encourage landowners and farmers around Ohio to support an Ohio Division of Wildlife push in 1998 for widespread Sunday hunting laws, the agency agreed to stiffen penalties for hunting without permission. Written permission from a landowner is now required. The maximum penalty for a first offense is $500 and 60 days in jail.

As Ohio's deer herd blossomed, the Buckeye State began to lure hunters from around the country who were eager to spend a lot of money in Ohio for the chance to bag a trophy buck. The big bucks are valuable because they buoy non-resident hunting license and deer permit sales. Deer and turkey hunting, as well as walleye and bass fishing are now popular Ohio tourist attractions.

Wildlife officials couldn't count on judges around the state to financially punish deer poachers, especially in southern counties where many feed plentiful venison to their families over the long winter. Trophy bucks, though, now have added protection from a restitution law enacted in March, 2008.

The value of a deer's antlers were established using the Boone & Crockett Club scoring system. An illegally-killed trophy buck might elicit a $200 or $300 fine from a judge. Massive-antlered bucks have prompted wildlife officials to seek restitution of more than $20,000.

"The restitution values are high because a trophy buck is worth that much,"
said wildlife law enforcement head Jim Lehman. "We've seen hunters sell the antlers, or make thousands of dollars in endorsements. We had one hunter who took a lot of photos of himself with an illegal buck, changing ball caps and gear for every photo to go after endorsements."

A good example of the disparity between court fines and restitution is Van Wert hunter Dale Linton, who was convicted early this year of killing five antlered deer in 2009, four over the season limit. He was fined $1,630, which included court costs. The restitution sought by the Division of Wildlife added $5,618 to the bill.

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