COLUMBUS, Ohio — Eighteen state wildlife officers got paid for hunting deer, and some falsified records in an attempt to cover it up, an investigation shows.
“The timekeeping records for 18 wildlife employees contained conflicting information which showed wrongful activity: either the employee was on duty while engaged in deer hunting activities, or off duty and falsifying work records to obtain pay they were not entitled to receive,” the Ohio inspector general’s office found.
Some of the wildlife officers harvested as many as three deer on state time in the period covered by the probe, 2009 to early 2011.
Bethany McCorkle, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said the wildlife officers (except for a field supervisor who has retired) were reassigned to administrative duties . Their final discipline will be determined by an internal investigation that could take two to four months, she said.
Deputy Director Rick Corbin said changes already have been implemented to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
“That’s one of the things we adjusted back in 2012 when we first learned of this investigation,” he said.
Carl Enslen, spokesman for the inspector general, said it’s possible additional Division of Wildlife workers hunted on state time but didn’t get caught because they didn’t bag a deer. Investigators compared wildlife officers’ work logs with times on deer tags, which specify the names and addresss of the hunters and the dates and times of kills. Deer check stations then generate deer harvest reports, which record the hunters’ personal identifying information and other data.
The 18 employees were from 18 counties: Adams, Belmont, Butler, Champaign, Columbiana, Defiance, Fayette, Franklin, Gallia, Geauga, Highland, Hocking, Holmes, Mercer, Sandusky, Stark, Vinton and Wyandot. Prosecutors in each county were forwarded a copy of the report.
The probe was sparked by an earlier investigation that resulted in the criminal convictions — for dereliction of duty and tampering with records — of two DNR wildlife officers who were deer hunting while on duty in Brown County. They are no longer with the department.
“Suspecting the activities might be more than an isolated incident, the inspector general launched a review of the timekeeping records for the days when any of the 490 employees at the Division of Wildlife reported harvesting a deer,” the inspector general’s report said.
The investigation also found that, at the time, wildlife officers were home-based and did not have a report-in location.
“This lack of accountability and supervision along with the failure of wildlife officers’ compliance with the communication policy is also an officer safety issue,” the 15-page report said.
Enslen said that, especially during deer-gun season, “One of the fears has to be if there’s not a regular mark-in, especially by an officer in the field, is that he’s hurt.”
Corbin said that problem has been fixed, too.