Deer Smugglers from Texas, Minnesota, Sentenced to Prison

Tom Harvey, 512-389-4453,

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AUSTIN, Texas — A Texas man and a Minnesota man were both sentenced to federal prison terms yesterday for illegally transporting white-tailed deer across state lines.

On Nov. 24 in Plano near Dallas, Federal District Judge Richard A. Schell sentenced Robert Eichenour, owner of Circle E Ranch in Grimes County, Texas, to 18 months in federal prison. Eichenour must also serve 36 months probation after his release from prison and pay a $50,000 fine. Brian Becker of Minnesota was also sentenced to 33 months in federal prison and 36 months probation after his release.

During the probation period, neither man will be allowed to sell deer. The equipment used by both during their illegal endeavor was also forfeited. Both men were convicted of felony violations of the federal Lacey Act, which prohibits the transportation of illegally captured or prohibited animals across state lines.

The two men were caught on Oct. 22, 2006, in a smuggling sting operation conducted by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Special Operations Unit and United States Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agents. Eichenour and Becker were caught smuggling 14 white-tailed buck deer from Minnesota to Eichenour’s ranch in Grimes County.

Investigators say the plan was for Eichenour to bring in hunters and sell hunts for the trophy Minnesota bucks. After a lengthy investigation it was determined that, over a four year period, Becker and Eichenour had smuggled in approximately $300,000 worth of white-tailed bucks. Other investigations continue involving people Eichenour did business with as a permitted deer breeder in Texas.

"Texas game wardens and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agents continue to work together to deter illegal trafficking in wildlife across our state and across America," said Col. Peter Flores, TPWD Law Enforcement Division director. "The illegal trade may be perceived to be profitable for some, but the price to pay is high when they are caught, and we hope that this type of penalty will deter those who would engage in the illegal wildlife trade."

The lead investigators for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department were the late Sgt. Adam Chrane and Sgt. Brad Chappell, both investigators in a TPWD special operations unit that focuses on large scale cases which cross regional lines. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service was represented in the case by Special Agent Mike Merida. The federal prosecutor was Assistant U.S. Attorney Shamoil T. Shipchandler in Dallas.

During the sentencing phase, former TPWD employee Brian Richards was called to testify about the threat of disease associated with the smuggled deer. Richards is currently employed by the U.S. Geological Survey as a Chronic Wasting Disease specialist.