Crime

They smuggled deer to Forrest County, feds say. But that wasn’t the only problem.

The white-tailed deer is susceptible to chronic wasting disease. Deer smuggled from Pennsylvania to a Forrest County ranch came from a herd that tested positive for the disease, leading to charges for two Pearl River, La., men, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Hattiesburg.
The white-tailed deer is susceptible to chronic wasting disease. Deer smuggled from Pennsylvania to a Forrest County ranch came from a herd that tested positive for the disease, leading to charges for two Pearl River, La., men, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Hattiesburg.

White-tailed deer smuggled from Pennsylvania to a Forrest County ranch came from a herd that tested positive for chronic wasting disease, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Hattiesburg.

Two Louisiana men now face a federal charge of violating the Lacey Act, which prohibits importing live white-tailed deer into Mississippi.

Edward L. Donaldson Jr., 75, and John Jared Oertling, 42, both of Pearl River, Louisiana, are charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office following investigation of deer found at a 1,031-acre, high-fenced enclosure in Forrest County.

A date for an initial appearance did not appear in court records Friday.

Donaldson and Oertling manage the property, known as Turkey Trott Ranch, Assistant U.S. Attorney Harold Brittain and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Luis Santiago said in a news release Friday. Jill Donaldson, who is Oertling’s wife and Donaldson’s daughter, owns the ranch, they said.

Wildlife officials say chronic wasting disease is the largest threat to deer and elk in North America. It is a contagious neurological disease that ends in the death of infected deer and elk.

The men conspired from February 2010 through November 2012 to smuggle deer from Pennsylvania and Indiana into Mississippi from Louisiana holding pens for breeding and killing trophy white-tailed buck deer in Forrest County, the charging document says.

Sometime before January 2012, Oertling partnered with a Lakeland, Louisiana, resident to buy and raise white-tailed deer for trophy hunting, the charge says. Donaldson allegedly agreed to pay to buy the deer and cover maintenance costs.

According to the court document, in a three-month period, Oertling executed promissory notes in excess of $200,000 to buy more than 55 white-tailed deer for delivery to Louisiana holding pens in Lake Charles, Carencro and Franklinton. Several deliveries of deer were taken in trailers to the Turkey Trott Ranch.

Oerlting and Donaldson learned in November 2012 that the deer from Pennsylvania were infected, and Obertling directed that all deer at the ranch be released into a 1.6-square mile fenced enclosure, the document says.

“This case demonstrates our continuing commitment, together with our federal and state law enforcement partners, to investigate and prosecute those who choose to violate the federal Lacey Act,” Brittain said.

Criminal Division Chief Darren J. LaMarca is prosecuting the case.

A Mississippi law effective May 2016 prohibits big-game hunters from bringing carcasses from the deer family into the state.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews

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