The Maine Warden Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and the Pennsylvania Game Commission conducted an intensive four-month investigation into poaching activities in Maine and Pennsylvania in the fall of 2010, resulting in criminal charges filed against six people.
During the course of that investigation, officers documented as many as 400 crimes committed in the killing of as many as 30 deer in north-central Pennsylvania and dozens more in Turner, Leeds and Auburn.
This was a fit of pure butchery.
These guys weren’t “hunting.” They were using vehicles at night to drive deer to kill. And, while some of the meat was harvested for consumption, most of it was not.
This was, pure and simple, a well planned “thrill of the kill” slaughter in which one of the poachers — former police chief Everett H. Leonard of Turner — boasted of his transformation from law enforcer to law breaker.
Now, two years later, after federal and state agencies spent hundreds of man hours and thousands of dollars on the investigation and state courts spent additional hours and money to prosecute these poachers, all of them have pleaded guilty to a small fraction of the crimes and nearly all have been sentenced for their part in the killings.
In total, these six poachers will collectively spend as few as 122 days in jail and will pay as little as $20,200 in fines for the deliberate and illegal killing of more than 50 deer in a spree that spanned two states.
Curiously, the only juvenile involved here appears to have been disproportionately punished, burdened with a $7,000 fine compared to the ringleader’s $2,300 fine.
This is justice?
Or, is this a reflection of how low our society values game crimes in a state that is financially dependent on protecting and preserving natural resources in order to attract visitors, including lawful hunting parties.
We spent an awful lot of time and money, and put game wardens in personal danger, to investigate and prosecute hundreds of crimes for such a minor return on those efforts.
Here’s the breakdown:
A 17-year-old Greene boy, charged with crimes in Maine and Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced to pay nearly $7,000 in fines. (The boy’s name is confidential under state laws.)
In August 2011, Lucien Clavet of Monmouth, charged only with crimes in Pennsylvania, was sentenced to 18 months of probation and fines totaling $1,800 for guilty pleas to eight crimes. He is barred from applying for a Pennsylvania hunting license while on probation.
Carlton John Enos of Turner was sentenced to seven days in jail and fined $4,850 after pleading guilty to five charges in Maine. He will be allowed to pay $100 a month until the fine is satisfied, which will be some time in 2016.
Jason Clifford, charged only with crimes in Maine, pleaded guilty to five misdemeanor charges and was fined $4,250.
Everett Tyler Leonard of Turner pleaded guilty last year to 11 illegal killings and 14 other game offenses in Pennsylvania. He was sentenced to 3 1/2 to 14 months in prison plus 18 months probation and fined as part of a plea deal. Had he gone to trial, he could have faced up to 88 years in jail and $414,800 in fines. He has not yet answered to the Maine charges but, if convicted on all counts, he could face as much as 43.5 years in jail and $61,000 in fines. However, given previous sentences in this case, we highly doubt his punishment will come anywhere close to these maximums.
And, finally, Everett H. “Lenny” Leonard — the former police chief and self-appointed ringleader of this little band of poachers — was sentenced to serve between 15 and 60 days, plus 18 months of probation and a $2,300 fine, for crimes committed in Pennsylvania. He had been facing up to 54 years and $255,300 in fines there.
On Wednesday, he was sentenced to three years in jail — all time suspended — for poaching and drug crimes committed in Maine.
He had been facing up to 42 years in jail and $84,000 in fines here. Instead, he serves no jail time at all because he has been deemed too sick to be jailed.
So, two years after state and federal game officials investigated what a Pennsylvania official called "one of the most egregious" hunting-related criminal cases in that region, justice has been served.
Or has it?
Do we have here, instead of justice, a slap on the wrist for these poachers and a slap in the face of investigators and prosecutors, and of taxpayers who funded their work?
In the future, if we are to continue pursuing these cases, the punishments must reflect the harm done. If not, then why are we — as a state burdened with high government costs — investing so much for so little return?
What’s the deterrent for poaching if, in the end, these crooks receive ridiculously little punishment for slaughtering Maine resources?
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.