Eight people in Ohio have been implicated in an alleged deer poaching scheme that profited from the illegal harvesting of hundreds of animals.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael C. O'Malley and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced all eight people face charges in the case, in which they allegedly netted thousands of dollars in profits from nearly 3,000 pounds of deer meat, according to a news release from the prosecutor's office.
Officials called the poaching ring the largest in state history.
In all, 66 counts — from fraud to poaching to money laundering — were handed down June 6 by the Cuyahoga County grand jury that could result in up to 55 years in prison and $225,000 in restitution.
The charges came after a two-year investigation by the Ohio DNR.
Among those charged was John Zayac, 70, of Broadview Heights, who prosecutors said was the ringleader of the operation. The prosector's office said Zayac worked with the other suspects "to intentionally falsify information to the state of Ohio regarding the number of deer they bagged as required by law."
Zayac is accused of running a poaching ring "whose purpose was to steal property from the state of Ohio by unlawfully killing white-tailed deer for the purposes of game and greed," the indictment states.
Other defendants are Zayac's wife Rebecca Gregerson, 60; Terrance Ankrom, 52, and his wife Tina, 42, of Kent; John Stofan, 52, of North Royalton; John Frost, 78, of Brecksville; Todd Neczeporenko, 46, of Jefferson; and Craig Steed, 38, of Newton Falls.
"The Ohio Department of Natural Resources should be commended for their diligence," Prosecutor O'Malley said in the news release. "This investigation took time and patience to show that these individuals were illegally and egregiously stealing natural resources from our great state."
According to the news release:
The investigation showed that Zayac organized "deer drives" and allowed the co-defendants to bring the poached deer to his property to be skinned and dressed for processing. Zayac made the arrangements with the processors and decided the form in which the meat would be processed. The large quantities of meat were produced without the proper tags, rendering it unlawful to sell.
The defendants would kill more than the allotted one buck per license, which is called "overbagging." To produce more meat, they would kill multiple bucks each season and report them as does. Zayac and his wife Rebecca Gregerson, falsified online records regarding the number of deer they bagged.
Also, the Ankroms allegedly overbagged deer and falsified their hunting activities, as well as those of family members, including son-in-law Steed.
The same activity was accused of Stofan, who allegedly used Frost's deer tags to kill more animals than legally allowed and then falsely reported his kills. Authorities said Stofan would attract deer with feed at night near motion-activated lights so he could shoot them easily, also against Ohio law.
The indictment charges Neczeporenko, the owner of Smokin' T's in Ashtabula, purchased the deer meat for processing despite it not having the appropriate tags.
The illegal activity occurred sometime between Oc. 1, 2013 and March 31, 2016, according to the indictment.
List of charges
- Engaging In A Pattern Of Corrupt Activity (all eight defendants)
- Attempted Engaging In A Pattern Of Corrupt Activity (all eight defendants)
- Grand Theft (Zayac, Stofan)
- Tampering with Records (Zayac, 6 counts; Terrance Ankrom, 6 counts; Gregerson, 2 counts; Tina Ankrom, 2 counts; Steed, 2 counts; Frost, 1 count; Stofan, 1 count )
- Telecommunications Fraud (Zayac, 6 counts; Terrance Ankrom, 6 counts; Gregerson, 2 counts; Tina Ankrom, 2 counts; Steed, 2 counts; Frost, 1 count; Stofan, 1 count)
- Theft (Terrance Ankrom)
- Identity Theft (Terrance Ankrom)
- Cultivation of Marijuana (Stofan)
- Possessing Criminal Tools (Zayac, Terrance Ankrom, Tina Ankrom)
- Receiving Stolen Property (Neczeporenko, 9 counts)
- Money Laundering (Neczeporenko, Zayac, 9 counts each)
- Unlawful Ownership of Wild Animals (Zayac, 7 counts; Terrance Ankrom, 5 counts; Stofan)
Report: 8 Charged in Cleveland-Area Deer Poaching Ring