State wildlife employees in Butler and Champaign counties are among 18 across the state under internal investigation and facing possible criminal penalties for allegedly hunting deer while on the clock.
The Ohio Inspector General issued a report Friday alleging a culture that lent itself to possibly dozens of Division of Wildlife employees bagging bucks while on the clock.
The OIG compared employee timesheets to deer harvesting records for the years 2009 and 2010. They found 79 Division of Wildlife employees who potentially harvested deer on days they worked regular hours, overtime or were off on non-vacation leave, such as sick leave.
Of those, it found 26 who potentially harvested deer while on duty. Records were missing for eight. But the other 18 employees investigators found either reported they were at work while hunting, or reported they were not at work, but claimed the hours anyway.
“Either they were working and hunting for their own benefit, or they were hunting and they over-reported their time,” said Ohio Deputy Inspector General Carl Enslen.
This includes Joshua Zientek of Butler County, who claimed 14 hours regular pay for Dec. 20, 2009, during hours he reported harvesting a deer; and Jeffrey Tipton of Champaign County, who reported harvesting a deer during a 10-hour work day on Jan. 9, 2010.
ODNR spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle said one of the employees has retired and the other 17 have been placed on administrative duties while the department investigates whether to take administrative action against them.
“The culture is changing. This is unacceptable and it will not be tolerated,” she said.
The inspector general’s report was forwarded to county prosecutors in 18 Ohio counties, each of whom will consider whether to press charges.
County prosecutors in Butler and Champaign counties say they are reviewing the cases. Butler County Prosecutor Mike Gmoser said he will see what disciplinary action the state takes before deciding whether to spend county resources pursuing criminal charges.
The statewide investigation started in 2012 when the Inspector General received a photo of two wildlife employees in Brown County in partial uniform posing with a bevy of dead deer. An investigation found that they were on the clock at the time, and they eventually were found guilty of tampering with records, dereliction of duty and unauthorized use of property.
Suspecting it wasn’t an isolated incident, the Inspector General widened the investigation. In addition to finding more hunting on the clock, investigators say they found widespread problems with employees not following agency policy on marking their time on and off the clock.
ODNR officials said they took steps when the report was issued last year to ensure that the policies are being enforced.
“We have the belief and hope they have embraced the idea this is a practice that needs to be discontinued,” Enslen said of the on-duty hunting.