Monday, February 22, 2016

Milwaukee deputy, friend charged with federal wildlife crimes

A pair of hunters, including a Milwaukee County sheriff's deputy, have agreed to plead guilty to bringing a black bear and a timber wolf illegally killed in Ontario into the U.S.

Reid X. Viertel of West Allis and Terry Schmit of Franklin are each charged with illegally importing the bear in 2013, and Viertel faces a second count related to the importation of the timber wolf in 2012.

Schmit, a 19-year veteran of the sheriff's office, was placed on administrative duty earlier this month for failing to report that he was under federal investigation.

Each count is punishable by up to a year in jail and $100,000 fine, plus a year of extended supervision. The charges, federal misdemeanors, and the plea agreements were filed Thursday. No hearing dates have been set.

As part of the plea bargain, both men gave up their rights to fish, hunt or trap wildlife in North America until 2021.

Each has already pleaded guilty in Ontario to various offenses related to the same incidents and together were fined a total of $11,000 and banned from hunting there for 15 years. The court there found Viertel had forged documents to obtain export licenses, among other violations.

According to Milwaukee federal court records: 

In 2014, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources suspected Viertel and other Wisconsin residents of operating illegal hunting and guiding services around Dryden, about 120 miles north of International Falls, Minn. The OMNR asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for assistance in the investigation.

The Ontario authorities found a Viertel Facebook post about game he and associates supposedly took in Ontario, but the authorities found no record of him having been licensed to do so.

They did find an export permit Viertel got in February 2013 for four wolves, two foxes, a fisher and three weasels, all of which he claimed were gifted to him by a Canadian trapper.

Viertel gave a similar story about the bear he tried to export in 2013, saying it was also a gift, from a different Ontario resident. Viertel, Schmit and the Ontario man had registered the bear there, but claimed the local man had shot it.

However, investigators saw a post on Viertel's Facebook page of the men with the bear, claiming Schmit had taken it. He did not have a license to hunt bear in Ontario.

The Ontario man under whose license the bear had been registered told investigators Schmit shot the bear.

When U.S. authorities interviewed Viertel in February 2014, he gave conflicting accounts about who shot the bear and the wolf he had imported in 2012.

Schmit told the U.S. investigators he did not shoot the bear, though he admitted telling everyone except the Canadian natural resources officials that he did. He also admitted paying to have the bear mounted, and that it was on display at his house. It was later seized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

By August 2015, Schmit had changed his story and admitted killing the bear illegally, and to importing illegally with Viertel.


source