By Deborah Weisberg
Pittsburgh — Three Westmoreland County butchers await arraignment June 30 on a slew of charges relating to the alleged illegal sale of venison.
Three of their relatives and friends, including Keith Stiles, 62, of New Alexandria, have been charged with multiple counts that relate to the alleged poaching of deer and furbearers, hunting with revoked licenses on tags belonging to other individuals, and illegally selling pelts.
“Commercialization of wildlife has the stiffest of game laws, and some of these defendants face heavy fines and the possibility of jail time,” said Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife conservation Officer Brian Singer, who noted that the arrests resulted from a two-year undercover investigation generated by numerous complaints from local hunters.
“People were mad enough to walk into our office and name names. The defendants had been pretty brazen, bragging a lot about what they were getting away with,” he said. “Of course, when you’re selling illegally to the public, how discreet can you be?”
Butcher William M. Rhoades, 64, of Rhoades Pro Cut in Derry is accused of selling hundreds of pounds of venison at about $4 a pound, as well as clear and apple-pie flavored moonshine at about $20 a bottle to undercover officers and others, said Singer.
New Alexandria butchers Randy S. Fink, 51, and Brett A. Weimer, 42, also have been charged. In 53 criminal counts, Fink is accused of using his wife and stepson’s deer tags to poach deer, helping undercover officers purchase venison illegally from Weimer, and letting Stiles use his permit to trap red foxes, raccoons, muskrats, and coyotes, which Stiles then sold, Singer said.
Fink’s wife Carol A. Fink, 43, and his stepson, Calvin T. Bush, 25, were charged in connection with allegedly buying deer tags to give to Fink, Singer said. “They conspired with Mr. Fink to buy the tags he used.”
Fink allegedly gave Stiles his trapping license to use, since Stiles was on indefinite license revocation for failing to pay fines for a prior poaching conviction, Singer said. “Mr. Stiles was in cahoots mainly with Mr. Fink, who conspired with him in the taking and selling of the pelts.”
Stiles is charged with 177 counts, more than half of which relate to allegedly staking out and setting traps for furbearers and illegally selling 45 pelts during a three-month period, Singer said.
His most serious charge relates to his allegedly growing and possessing marijuana and drug paraphernalia, said Singer.
Because it is a felony charge, he was arraigned soon after he turned himself in June 6. The other five defendants are scheduled for arraignment June 30, said Singer.
Collectively, the six defendants face 266 charges ranging from $200 for tagging violations to several thousand dollars and potential incarceration for buying and selling wildlife, Singer said.
A preliminary hearing is slated for July 16.
Because of the number of people involved and the case’s commercial aspect, Singer thinks the bust will have significant impact.
Rhoades and Fink could have obtained the venison they are accused of selling from “a plethora” of sources, and they had a steady clientele from which they profited, Singer said.
“If you cut off the supply, which we’ve done, the hope is the demand will go away.”
Singer praised undercover officers for their work and explained the investigation took two years because law enforcement wanted to be sure to nab everyone suspected of involvement, and because of the various seasons around deer and furbearers.
He also praised the public for coming forward with complaints. “This case started with information from citizens,” said Singer. “That’s what’s so important. Cases like this don’t happen without public involvement.”