By Letitia Stein
(Reuters) - A Georgia man was ordered to pay $1.6 million in fines and restitution - the largest sum ever levied against someone for a U.S. wildlife crime - after pleading guilty to offenses involving the illegal transport of white-tailed deer, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.
Benjamin Chason was sentenced this summer, but his case was sealed until this week in federal court in southern Ohio. Chason, 61, from Climax, Georgia, was prosecuted along with Donald Wainwright Sr., 49, of Live Oak, Florida.
The pair owned a hunting preserve in Ohio called Valley View Whitetails, where they charged hunters thousands of dollars to kill deer, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in a statement.
Wainwright, who operated illegal hunts at the preserve, pleaded guilty to wildlife crimes in February and was sentenced to 21 months in prison and a $125,000 fine, according to the statement.
Working together, they illegally attempted to ship deer that had not been certified to be disease-free in the United States. One shipment was intercepted en route to Georgia when regulators observed antlers sticking out of a cargo trailer, according to U.S. wildlife officials.
Chason owned additional hunting land in southern Georgia, and Wainwright had another property in northern Florida.
Both men pleaded guilty to multiple violations of the Lacey Act, which was the first federal law to protect wildlife when it passed in 1900, according to the statement.
In addition to his fine, Chason was sentenced to three years' probation and four months of house arrest.
Wainwright's son, Donald Wainwright Jr., also pleaded guilty in connection to the illegal hunts and was sentenced to probation and house arrest, regulators said.
(Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Fla.; Editing by Peter Cooney)