MOUNT VERNON — The Sunday after Thanksgiving, with firearms deer hunting season closed for the year, George Smith followed blood near his garage and drag marks to a pile of deer entrails and two empty beer bottles. He checked at the local tagging station to see who’d shot the deer on his property and left the mess.
Based on entries in the deer registration book, which was signed by a 13-year-old-girl, Smith knew the deer was shot by a member of a group of local people and their relatives who frequently hunted in the area.
Over the last couple years, the group gathered at the home of Clayton Hall’s grandmother, a neighbor of Smith’s, to hunt. The group included family, friends, even some teenagers.
Hall denied knowing anything about the deer shot on Smith’s property and Smith didn’t report the incident to the Maine Warden Service because of his relationship with the family, on whose land he used to hunt.
But now many in that group have been charged on a variety of poaching and illegal hunting counts.
Days after Joseph A. Deleskey, 38, of 466 Bean Road, Mount Vernon, was indicted on nearly 60 illegal hunting charges, seven of his relatives and associates face similar charges, the result of an 18-month investigation built on citizen complaints, anonymous tips and undercover work.
The Maine Warden Service released more information Saturday about the case against the group of hunters, including Deleskey, who was indicted on 56 charges in Kennebec County Superior Court this week.
Seven of Deleskey’s relatives and associates also have been charged in the case, including Hall, 48, of Vienna, who faces 10 charges.
The others facing charges as a result of the investigation are: Valter Almeida, 36, of Peabody, Mass.; Bonnie Currier, 39, of Vienna; Richard A. Deleskey, 62, of Danvers, Mass.; Richard M. Deleskey, 41, of Danvers, Mass.; Robert Rooney, 48, of Vassalboro; and Stevens, 41, of Mount Vernon.
The news release does not state how many or what charges the others face. Cpl. John MacDonald did not respond to an email message on Saturday. Capt. John McDonald, spokesman for the service, did not immediately respond to an email Saturday seeking more information.
Deleskey was indicted on 21 counts of night hunting, 16 counts of possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, five counts of loaded firearm in a motor vehicle and four counts each of illegal driving of deer, criminal trespass and hunting deer after having killed one. The charges include both misdemeanors and felonies. An indictment doesn’t determine guilt, but indicates that there is enough evidence to proceed with formal charges and a trial in superior court.
Deleskey is prohibited from carrying a firearm because of a February 2000 conviction in Salem, Mass., for assault with a dangerous weapon.
Deleskey on Saturday called the case “ridiculous,” but said he probably should not comment further.
Some of the alleged violations, such as night hunting and criminal trespass, carry mandatory revocation of a hunting license, said Smith, who helped craft the penalties when he was executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. He also writes a column that appears in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, and has blogged about the deer incident.
If convicted, Deleskey and Hall face fines, jail time and hunting-license suspensions, Smith said. The suspensions would probably be at least five years, Smith said, but Inland Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Chandler Woodcock has the authority to impose lifetime suspensions.
The other hunters would probably be fined and lose their licenses for at least a year if found guilty, Smith said.
Some of the charges in the case relate to the Thanksgiving incident on Smith’s property, which was at the tail end of the 2011 firearms season for deer. It turns out the group had an undercover game warden with them, Smith said.
Smith said Deleskey and Hall were the leaders of a group of people who frequently hunted together after gathering at the home of Hall’s grandmother in Mount Vernon. There are others who were not charged, including a couple of teenagers, Smith said.
“I used to hunt quite a bit on his grandfather’s land, and if I shot a deer up there I’d tell his grandfather and give him some of the meat,” Smith said.
When he found the beer cans and entrails on his land, “I was upset that it was them and they didn’t tell me.”
During the investigation, the release states, wardens learned of more than 100 fish and game violations by Deleskey, and they say he was involved illegally killing or wounding of more than a dozen deer.
After consulting with prosecutors, wardens added dozens of charges against Deleskey and nine more against Hall. The additional charges against Hall include criminal trespass, driving deer, terrorizing, hunting deer after having killed one and possessing unregistered deer.
The charges against Deleskey stem from alleged violations in November 2010 and last October and November.
“Deleskey and his associates appear to have a complete disregard for fish and wildlife laws and are having an impact on the local deer populations in their communities,” the release said.
According to the release, wardens and the Kennebec County District Attorney’s office spent 18 months gathering information based on citizen complaints, calls to the Operation Game Thief hotline and surveillance by game wardens.
In February, the warden service executed six search warrants in the Mount Vernon area and arrested Deleskey for possession of a firearm by a prohibited person and Hall for hunting deer after having killed one.
Smith commended the warden service for approaching landowners to tell them about poaching that took place on their property and the investigation.
Poaching has always been a problem in Maine, Smith said, but there’s decreasing tolerance for it, especially because most poached animals are wasted, not eaten.
“It’s my hope that the people that were incidental to this have learned a valuable lesson, especially the kids,” Smith said. “That’s what bothers you the most, the fact that kids were involved with this. Hopefully they’ll learn from this and be better hunters in the future.”
Susan McMillan — 621-5645