In a unique role reversal that serves both the public and wildlife in Ohio, the poacher has become the trophy.
The ringleader of an illegal guide service that operated around New Albany, on the northeastern corner of the Columbus suburbs, is headed to prison for his role in a brazen operation that involved charging clients to hunt on land he didn’t own or have permission to use, and for taking numerous big bucks during the course of his crimes.
Following a two-year investigation, law enforcement officials with the Ohio Division of Wildlife found that 55-year-old Scott J. Walsh of New Albany had enticed hunters to his operation with claims that he owned or had permission to hunt 1,600 acres of prime white-tailed deer habitat. Walsh used photos of trophy deer to promote his service — deer he had poached from properties in the area. Walsh owned none of the property, and actually had hunting permission for just 15 acres.
“This is the first case I’ve seen of this scale,” said Leighland Arehart, law enforcement supervisor in the Columbus district office of the Division of Wildlife. “We don’t know for certain how many instances there were, but he was illegally using the property of approximately 40 landowners, where he did not have permission to hunt.”
Through a two-year investigation of Walsh’s activities, the Division of Wildlife discovered that Walsh had received payments of $250 to $1,200 from at least 20 hunters from Vermont, Texas, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Ohio to guide them on white-tailed deer hunts.
“He was perpetrating a fraud,” Arehart said. “Part of the guiding industry is that you are relying on that person to be operating in good faith and to take you where hunting is legal and they have the necessary permission.”
Multiple felony and misdemeanor violations were documented during the investigation, including discharging a firearm near a premises, improper handling of a firearm in a motor vehicle, having weapons under disability, hunting without permission, failing to wear hunter orange, no hunting license, no deer permit, possession of drugs and jacklighting deer.
Arehart said the investigation showed that the client hunters had licenses and “were attempting to do everything legally.” The case focused on Walsh, who has two prior convictions for hunting on land without permission, and who had been on law enforcement’s radar for more than two decades after more than 30 documented complaints related to Walsh violating Ohio’s wildlife laws.
“He was doing some sort of this before we were aware of it,” Arehart said. “These are the ones that give hunters a bad name. What he was doing undermines the sport, and it undermines us, too.”
After multiple search warrants were executed on the residences of Walsh and his accomplices, at least nine trophy white-tailed deer mounts were seized, along with vehicles used in the scam.
Once a plea agreement was reached, Walsh was convicted of at least four felonies, including several firearms-related charges, and a misdemeanor count of wildlife trafficking.
He got 15 months in prison and will be on supervised release for five years following the end of his incarceration. Walsh loses his hunting rights for five years, was ordered to pay $5,000 in restitution, and also forfeited his vehicle and ATV used in the crimes, and all white-tailed deer trophy mounts.
Walsh’s 23-year-old son Justin was convicted of two felonies for his role in the operation, and received 30 days in jail and the loss of hunting rights for five years. Steven A. Clemons, 48, of New Albany, was convicted of one felony and one misdemeanor for assisting the Walshes. He got 30 days in jail, will pay $3,000 restitution, and also loses hunting rights for five years.
“The law-abiding sportsmen want us to clean this kind of thing up,” Arehart said. “We have a responsibility to protect our wildlife, and protect the sport and tradition of hunting, so I’m glad we were able to bring these people to justice.”
Arehart said the work of the Franklin County prosecutor’s office and the judge involved in the matter helped carry the case to a successful close.
“At the heart of this case is poaching, since a number of deer were taken illegally, but it’s also a property rights case since he was making money using other people’s property without their knowledge and consent,” Arehart said. “It was certainly unusual and brazen, but anytime there’s an opportunity to make a financial gain off wildlife, some people break the law.”
Wildlife officials urge anyone observing or suspecting that wildlife violations are taking place to report that activity by calling the 1-800-POACHER toll-free hotline. Callers can remain anonymous.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.