A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) investigation led to the arrests on Friday, Aug. 9, of three suspects in Levy and Pinellas counties for violating state laws pertaining to illegally harvesting and selling various fish and wildlife. Fifteen additional suspects were served with notice to appear citations in Levy, Orange, Pinellas and Broward counties.

As part of a long-term investigation initiated in May 2017, FWC investigators managed to engage with this group of associates to gain information and evidence. The suspects were taking deer out of season, alligators without licenses and permits, and protected gopher tortoises. During a closure in response to red tide, they illegally took snook, jeopardizing the fishery’s recovery.

“Organized criminal operations like this pose serious environmental and economic consequences,” said Col. Curtis Brown, head of FWC’s Division of Law Enforcement. “They damage our precious natural resources and create black markets that undermine the legal process. We do our best to put a stop to these crimes, supporting law-abiding business owners, landowners and those who enjoy recreating in Florida.”

“Many Floridians make their living in and around Florida’s waters, and when a group of individuals disregard the conservation efforts of so many, it’s encouraging to see the FWC and agency partners work hard to bring those individuals to justice,” said JD Dickenson, Coastal Conservation Association Florida chairman. “CCA Florida is proud of the hard work that FWC officers do in protecting the resources that we all enjoy.”

“As an advocate for sportsmen’s groups in Florida, I applaud FWC law enforcement for its efforts to protect our resources,” said Lane Stephens, a long-time lobbyist for hunting and fishing organizations in Florida.

There are still aspects of this investigation that are ongoing, and additional charges may be forthcoming.

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