ODNR Closes Largest Poaching Investigation in 146 Year History

ODNR Officers pose with the 96 confiscated deer and turkey mounts, along with35 sets of antlers

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources closed the door on their largest investigation in department history. The investigation uncovered illegal activity and crimes that are usually associated with organized crime. It seemed the deeper they dug the more dirt came to light.

According to an ODNR press release, Operation North Coast resulted in 46 defendants being charged with 91 felonies and 73 misdemeanors. These 46 individuals were assessed a combined $131,763 in fines and restitution, sentenced to 8.6 years of jail with the majority suspended, received 79 years of hunting and fishing revocation and paid more than $18,000 in court cost.

John Zayac’s house during a ODNR raid

The investigation focused on nine defendants, that were subsequently charged with engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity and associated crimes for operating as a criminal enterprise. The members of the group would poach deer and either not tag them or they would also check them in under the names of others. The deer meat was laundered into venison “smokies” that were sold or bartered for taxidermy and other services.

The ringleaders John Zayac, John Stofan and Terrance Ankrom harvested 39 deer, including 22 bucks, over the two-year period. (The bag limit is one buck per year per person.) The men would get their spouses and other family members to check the deer. The deer were then de-boned and transferred to Zayac, who would take the de-boned venison to Smokin’ T’s, a meat processor in Ashtabula County for processing.

After two and a half year the investigation has closed

Approximately 2,000 pounds of boneless venison was taken to Todd Neczeporenko, who owns Smokin’ Ts meat processing. Smokin’ Ts was charged with money laundering for converting the boneless venison into products that were later sold by members of the enterprise.

John Zayac paid $40,000 in restitution, had his hunting privileges revoked for seven years, forfeited a truck and 44 of the 54 seized deer mounts were forfeited to the ODNR Division of Wildlife.

John Stofan was ordered to pay $25,000 in restitution, lost his hunting privileges for five years and 31 of the 35 deer mounts were forfeited to the ODNR Division of Wildlife.

Terrence Ankrom was ordered to pay $6,800 in restitution, forfeited a truck and lost his hunting privileges for five years. Todd Neczeporenko’s business pleaded to a lesser charge and was ordered to pay $15,000 in restitution.

ODNR ware house filled to the gills with evadence

This is just a taste of the convictions uncovered in Operation North Coast. As ODNR officer investigated these crimes, other violation popped up. They charged people with selling sport fish meat and even nabbed a pair of anglers who cheated in a walleye fishing tournament.

After state wildlife investigators reviewed thousands of documents, conducted approximately 200 interviews, executed additional search warrants, examined hundreds of digital and physical evidence items that were seized and attended approximately 100 court hearings. Of the items seized were one vehicle, 96 deer and turkey mounts, 35 sets of antlers, more than 200 pounds of filleted sport fish and 400 pounds of de-boned venison and processed deer meat. They are calling it mission complete

A hardy well done to all the officers and investigators involved