Louisiana men admit smuggling diseased deer to Forrest County ranch

White-tailed deer infected by chronic wasting disease are infectious until their deaths.
White-tailed deer infected by chronic wasting disease are infectious until their deaths. Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks

Two Louisiana men have admitted smuggling white-tailed deer to a Forrest County ranch, including deer they knew came from a diseased herd, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Edward L. Donaldson Jr., 75, and John Jared Oertling, 42, both of Pearl River in St. Tammany Parish, pleaded guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Hattiesburg.

The men brought dozens of deer from Pennsylvania and Indiana to Louisiana holding pens and smuggled them into Mississippi for breeding and the killing of trophy white-tailed buck deer at Turkey Trott Ranch, a court document said.

A herd of captive deer from Pennsylvania had tested positive for chronic wasting disease, considered the greatest threat to deer and elk populations in North America. It’s a neurological disease that ends when infected animals die.

Donaldson and Oertling admitted the smuggling operation ran from February 2010 through November 2012, U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst said in a news release.

Federal prosecutors charged the men in September.

They each face up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine at sentencing hearings on Jan. 17.

Donaldson and Oertling have remained free on unsecured bonds of $10,000 each.

Both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the federal Lacey Act. The act prohibits the taking or importing of wildlife, fish or designated plants in violation of federal or state laws, or both. Mississippi has a state law that mirrors the federal law.

Donaldson had agreed to buy deer and pay for their upkeep and Oertling ordered the deer and scheduled their movement from holding pens to Forrest County, the charging document said.

Oerling learned in November 2012 that the deer that came from Pennsylvania were from an infected herd, and decided to release them into a high-fenced, 1,031-acre enclosure at the ranch.

“The illegal transportation and importation of live animals across state lines can have a potentially devastating impact on the health and safety of our citizens,” U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst said in a news release.

The deer smuggling case is the third prosecuted in South Mississippi sine February 2014.

The possible spread of disease through the illegal commercialization of wildlife is a top priority for law enforcement officers with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Special Agent in Charge Luis Santiago said in a written statement.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews