Five juveniles, including some from Crawford County, are facing hunting violation charges which could result in more than $90,000 in fines and costs.

In a release issued Thursday, the Pennsylvania Game Commission announced the charges against the juveniles in what the organization termed a "major poaching ring." The juveniles are accused of killing or attempting to kill 14 deer over the course of the fall of 2020.

Jason R. Amory, an information and education supervisor with the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Northwest Region, said the accused juveniles are a mixture of Crawford County and Erie County residents, though he did not want to state the specific ratio while the case is going through the courts.

A total of 11 full or partial deer carcasses have been discovered in the case, with the remains being found in northern Crawford County and southern Erie County, according to Amory. In these cases, meat from the deer is very rarely taken and only occasionally are the antlers taken, indicating the animals were likely killed for fun.

"The theme we keep coming back to is these deer are being killed for almost thrill-kill-type situations," Amory said.

Amory said the accused juveniles were allegedly driving around at night in an automobile with loaded rifles, shooting at deer when they found them. Two rifles have been seized in the course of the investigation.

Amory said the Game Commission has encountered several recent cases involving juveniles in the two counties poaching deer.

"This has been an ongoing situation," he said. "We have had probably three cases of groups of juveniles in Erie and Crawford County in the last couple of years."

In fact, Amory said it appears this case is related to a March 2019 case of juveniles poaching.

"There are some very specific similarities, and I can't get into it, but there are some very specific similarities," he said. Due to the accused being juveniles and the latest case still going through the courts, Amory was not able to share many specifics, though he indicated some of the kids across the various cases may have been communicating with each other through the social media app SnapChat.

Charges against the juveniles were filed on Dec. 21 in the court of Erie County Magisterial District Judge Denise M. Stuck-Lewis. The charges include 143 citations with fines that, added together, reach a minimum of $48,800 and a maximum of $82,000. In addition, replacement costs often imposed in wildlife crimes could add $11,400 to the total, for a maximum possible $93,400.

Staff at Stuck-Lewis' office said the judge is still setting the fines for the charges. Once set, summons will be sent to the accused, at which point they will have the option of pleading guilty or not guilty. Should they plead the latter, the case would move to a trial.

The charges, which are all summary offenses, were filed by State Game Warden Michael Stutts of Erie County. In addition to the fines, Amory said the five juveniles had hunting licenses which could be revoked as a result of the alleged poaching.

"Criminal offenses of this nature, this magnitude and this amount typically results in the revocation of the license, but I can't say that for certain," he said.

In previous poaching cases Amory has been involved with the hunting licenses have been revoked. Revocations can be requested either by the charging officer, imposed by the judge or by the licensing organization. The licenses would be revoked for a finite amount of time, and Amory indicated it could be a lengthy period.

"There are so many violations here, it could be extensive," he said.

Stutts was assisted in the case by the Overt Special Investigations Unit, which consisted of Lawrence Hergenroeder and K-9 officer Storm. The pair helped in recovery of evidence in the field and conducting interviews of suspects.

Sean P. Ray can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at sray@meadvilletribune.com.

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