AUSTIN, Texas - Game wardens in the Special Operations Unit of Texas Parks and Wildlife Departments Law Enforcement Division have arrested six men and executed two search warrants as part of Operation Texas Shuffle, a year-long investigation into the black market deer trade in Texas.
Our focus here is stopping two main areas of criminal activity: deer being brought illegally across state lines, and wild deer being illegally laundered into deer breeding facilities, said Col. Pete Flores, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department law enforcement director.
Five of the men were arrested yesterday, including William Kornegay, 42, of Eden in Concho County; James Johnson, 60, of Florence in Williamson County; and Jeff Arbogust, 48, of Austin in Travis County, Chris Sharp, 33, of Marble Falls in Burnet County; and Ronald Rogers, 39, of San Saba in San Saba County.
The sixth suspect, Lance Clawson, 40, of Regency in Mills County, turned himself in this morning.
All six are alleged to have trapped, purchased or sold wild native whitetail deer. In addition, Rogers, Clawson and Kornegay are involved with permitted deer breeding facilities and are believed to have laundered wild deer into the permitted facilities. Kornegay serves as an agent for multiple licensed deer breeders. In one case, Clawson, a permitted deer breeding facility operator, allegedly darted wild deer and put them illegally into his facility.
Deer breeding is a legal and growing business in Texas, estimated by one breeder organization to be worth about $650 million per year for the state economy. It is illegal to capture or obtain wild deer and place them into breeding facilities. Breeders must obtain captive, pen-raised deer from other permitted breeders. There are currently 1,099 permitted deer breeders in Texas, holding 86,989 deer in 1,161 facilities. The vast majority of these are whitetail deer, and the rest are mule deer, the two native species in Texas.
Money is driving the illegal trade in wild native deer, said Capt. Greg Williford with TPWD Law Enforcement Divisions Special Operations Unit. A captive-raised breeder buck can sell for tens of thousands of dollars. So, catching deer in the wild seems a lot less expensive, until you get caught.
TPWD regulates deer breeding, issuing permits and conducting periodic facility inspections as warranted. A particular concern is monitoring breeding facilities for diseases such as Chronic Wasting Disease. CWD has not been detected in Texas, but it has cost tens of millions of dollars in other states. Texas borders essentially remain closed to the importation of whitetail and mule deer because of disease concerns.
Clawson and Rogers were previously apprehended Oct. 16 by Texas game wardens and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agents for smuggling eight deer into Texas from Oklahoma. Such interstate smuggling is not only illegal but also poses a disease threat to native whitetail deer.
Numerous Class B misdemeanors (fines up to $2,000 and up to 180 days confinement) have been filed on all six men for violating state Trap, Transport, and Transplant regulations relating to whitetail deer. As the investigation continues, additional charges and arrests are anticipated, including possible felony charges of tampering with a government document, and possible illegal possession of tranquilizer drugs, also a felony.
Based on where the alleged offenses occurred, county attorneys in Mills, Bell, Lampasas and Concho Counties will be prosecuting the misdemeanor charges.
Anyone who observes illegal deer trapping, sale or purchase in Texas should call Operation Game Thief toll-free at (800) 792-GAME. OGT is Texas privately funded wildlife crime stoppers hotline, operating 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week. Rewards of up to $1,000 may be paid to callers (who may remain anonymous). Game wardens recommend making the call immediately when illegal activity is observed, and say it is helpful to have a description of the activity, location of the violation, physical descriptions of alleged violators, description of any vehicles and the direction of travel.