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For Release: Wednesday, March 4, 2020

DEC Environmental Conservation Police Officer Highlights

Recent ECO Actions

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Environmental Conservation Police Officers (ECOs) enforce the 71 Chapters of NY Environmental Conservation Law (ECL), protecting fish and wildlife and preserving environmental quality across New York.

In 2018, the 288 ECOs across the state responded to 21,668 calls and worked on cases that resulted in 20,665 tickets or arrests for crimes ranging from deer poaching to solid waste dumping, illegal mining, the black market pet trade, and excessive emissions violations.

If you witness an environmental crime or believe a violation of environmental law occurred, please call the DEC Division of Law Enforcement hotline at 1-844-DEC-ECOS (1-844-332-3267).

"From Montauk Point to Mount Marcy, from Brooklyn to Buffalo, the ECOs patrolling our state are the first line of defense in protecting New York's environment and our natural resources, ensuring that they exist for future generations of New Yorkers," said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. "They work long and arduous hours, both deep in our remote wildernesses and in the tight confines of our urban landscapes. Although they don't receive much public fanfare, the work of our ECOs is critical to achieving DEC's mission to protect and enhance our environment."

NY Boat Show at Javits Center - New York County
On Jan. 22 - 26, Region 2 ECOs joined DEC Division of Marine Resources staff at the DEC booth at the New York Boat Show at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City. Several thousand visitors from the tri-state area attended the show, along with Governor Andrew Cuomo (leaves DEC's website). The ECOs discussed current fishing regulations, boating safety, and careers in the Division of Law Enforcement.

Two ECOs pose for a picture at the NY Boat Expo DEC booth
ECOs Johnston and Kelley at the DEC booth at New York Boat Show

Two ECOs speak with interested boaters at the NY Boat Expo
ECOs Lovgren and Crisafulli speaking with New York Boat Show attendees

Injured Red-Tailed Hawk - Ulster County
On Jan. 28, ECO Jeannette Bastedo was contacted by wildlife rehabilitator Missy Runyan about an injured Red-Tailed Hawk found at Camping World in the town of Ulster. Camping World employees captured the hawk and placed it in a box so that ECO Bastedo could take possession of it. The hawk was brought to Missy Runyan, who operates Friends of the Feathered and Furry Wildlife Center, and was diagnosed as having elevated lead levels and injuries consistent with a motor vehicle strike. The hawk is recovering under the wildlife rehabilitator's care and is doing much better.

An ECO holds an injured red-tailed hawk for a photo
Injured Red-Tailed Hawk

Sampling Team Members Attend HAZWOPER Training Course
Feb. 3 through 7, Investigators Scott Angotti, Jeremy Eastwood, Claude Stephens, and Michael Unger, along with ECOs Jeannette Bastedo and Darci Dougherty, attended a Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) training course offered by the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 158. The course is a requirement for DLE members on the Sampling Team since they may be called upon to collect evidence that either includes hazardous materials or comes from hazardous environments. The course covered proper Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) in different types of hazardous environments, decontamination processes, various types of respirators and supplied air equipment, hazardous substances, and other informative topics.

Four people in the HAZWOPER training course pose for a picture in their HAZMAT gear
Class participants demonstrating various PPE levels.

The Trees Have Eyes - Sullivan County
On Feb. 4, two men entered guilty pleas in connection with the illegal taking of deer. On Nov. 4, 2018, ECO Michael Hameline received an anonymous complaint of an illegally taken deer in the town of Mamakating, Sullivan County. It was reported that a deer was taken with a rifle during bow-crossbow season with the aid of bait. The complaint included a trail camera picture showing an ATV with a deer on the rear rack and the operator carrying a rifle. Upon arrival to the area, ECO Hameline located an ATV matching the trail camera photo that was still warm with fresh blood on it. ECO Hameline attempted to canvass the area for witnesses without success. ECO Ricky Wood and K9 Deming were called in to assist with evidence collection. The Officers followed a blood trail along an ATV trail to a baited tree stand. Blood samples were taken from the baited stand and the back of the ATV for future analysis. K9 Deming, trained in shell case detection, was also able to locate a recently fired shell casing at the base of the tree stand. In addition, a trail camera facing the stand was seized as evidence. Over the next year, investigators conducted multiple interviews identifying two suspects. A search warrant was obtained, and with the help of the New York State Police Forensic ID Unit, hundreds of deleted images were recovered from the seized trail camera. The collected blood samples were sent to DEC's Wildlife Health Unit (WHU) for forensic comparison, which confirmed that the blood recovered from the baited stand and the ATV were from the same deer. With the help of ECO Wood, K9 Deming, NYSP, DEC WHU, and the overwhelming evidence, Joseph Sabatello of Wurstboro and Michael Zielinski of Hopewell Junction pled guilty to charges. Sabatello, identified as the primary offender, was fined $2,517.50; Zielinski, his accomplice, was fined $1,910. With a DNA restitution fee of $450, the men were fined a total of $4,877.50.

Black and white trail cam photo still of a man on an ATV with a deer strapped to the back of it.
Image of the deer on the ATV

Kinkajou on the Loose - Ulster County
On Feb. 4, ECOs Adam Johnson and Nicole Duchene overheard radio traffic concerning a possible primate trapped on an individual's porch. While enroute to the location, Ulster County Sherriff's Deputies and Plattekill Police placed the animal into a cat carrier. Once on scene, ECOs confirmed that the animal was a Kinkajou. Kinkajous are tropical mammals bearing a close resemblance to primates or raccoons. These animals are legal to own because they do not belong to the primate family. After securing the Kinkajou, ECO Johnson contacted the New Paltz Animal Hospital to arrange temporary lodging. Employees at the animal hospital were familiar with an individual who lived in the area and owned a pet Kinkajou, and inquired if any were missing. As it turned out, the individual's Kinkajou had escaped from a residence close to where it became trapped. The ECOs reunited the owner with the Kinkajou in less than an hour after the original call came over the radio.

Kinkajou with its owner after being on the loose
Pet Kinkajou returned to its owner

Illegal Exotic Snake Breeding Den Identified - Orange County
On Feb. 20, a Newburgh man pled guilty to misdemeanor commercialization charges and agreed to pay a $500 fine related to the possession of more than 150 venomous snakes seized from his home. On Jun. 2, 2019, St. Luke's Cornwall Hospital contacted Central Dispatch reporting a subject bitten by a venomous snake. The subject received several doses of antivenom. Darren Paolini explained he was bit by a Taiwanese Pit Viper (Ovophis Makazayazaya) at his residence where he was attempting to breed the snakes. He was bitten on the left hand and transported himself to St. Luke's Cornwall Hospital for treatment and then transferred to Jacobi Medical in the Bronx. At Jacoby Medical, Paolini made a voluntary statement to ECO Ryan Kelly that he gets the snakes from importers, breeds them, and then trades the baby snakes for new snakes. Paolini stated that he had approximately 50 Pit Vipers and two Coral Snakes at his residence. On Jun. 3, 2019, Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigations (BECI) Investigator Jeff Conway obtained a search warrant for Paolini's residence. The warrant was executed the following day with support from staff from the Bronx Zoo, who assisted with handling, transporting, and housing the snakes. In total, investigators seized 157 live venomous snakes and 31 dead venomous snakes, representing 29 distinct species. Several years of breeding records were also seized.

Brown and tan rattlesnake coiled up in its terrarium
Strecker's Pygmy Rattlesnake seized during the warrant

Brown pit viper coiled up in its terrarium
Brown-spotted Pit Viper seized during the warrant

Indian Lake Fishing Derby - Hamilton County
On Feb. 22, ECOs Keith Kelly, Scott Pierce, Louis Gerrain, and Alan Brassard patrolled the Second Annual Ice Fishing Derby on Indian Lake. The ECOs focused on public safety during the event, in addition to compliance checks for fishing and off-road vehicles. DEC reminds New Yorkers to be safe when heading out on the ice. The presence of snowmobile tracks or footprints on the ice should not be taken as evidence of safe ice conditions. Individuals are strongly encouraged to check ice conditions and avoid situations that appear to present even a remote risk. For more information about being safe on the ice, go to DEC's Ice Fishing website.

Two ECOs on snowmobiles prepare to go on Fishing Derby patrol
ECOs Kelly and Pierce setting out on patrol

Two ECOs on patrol for the Indian Lake Fishing Derby
ECOs Gerrain and Brassard setting out for patrol

K9 Deming Will Find You and Your Evidence - Sullivan County
On Feb. 24, Freddy DeGroat of Port Jervis paid civil penalties in the Town of Lumberland Court stemming from a hunting incident that occurred at Glen Spey. On Nov. 9, 2019, ECOs Ricky Wood and Tom Koepf responded to Glen Spey to check on a previously observed baited tree stand. While monitoring the baited stand, ECO Wood observed DeGroat and another man, later identified as Mark Muller of Sparrowbush, entering the woods with a bow and gun just prior to sunset. After waiting nearly an hour for the hunters to return, ECOs Wood and Koepf spoke with the property owner for further information and ECO Wood deployed K9 Deming. K9 Deming ran a track from DeGroat's vehicle through the woods, past the baited stand, and located a dead and field dressed spike buck, the associated gut pile, and a rifle hidden under a tree. After ECOs Wood and Koepf secured the evidence, K9 Deming continued to track through the woods to where the hunters appeared to have been picked up by a vehicle along the roadway. The ECOs eventually made phone contact with DeGroat and seized his bow before meeting with him and Muller the following day. On Nov. 10, 2019, ECO Wood charged DeGroat with unlawfully taking protected wildlife, hunting deer with the aid of bait, and failing to tag deer as required. ECO Koepf charged Muller with possessing a firearm while bow hunting and taking protected wildlife. In total, the unlawful hunters paid $1,815 in penalties and the illegal deer was donated.

Dark photo in the woods with a large log on top of a rifle that K9 Deming found
K9 Deming and rifle he located under a tree

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