WESTMORELAND COUNTY, Pa. - Three Westmoreland County butchers await dozens of charges for allegedly processing, selling and buying venison illegally as a result of a two-year series of investigations.
All three were charged on May 19 by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, along with three others accused of related charges.
This article was written by Channel 11's news exchange partners at TribLIVE.
The investigation started with hunters' complaints to the game commission about several people who weren't following the law, according to Wildlife Conservation Officer Brian C. Singer.
William M. Rhoades, 64, of Derry was one of the first to be scrutinized in an investigation that eventually led to others, according to Singer.
“They're all kind of intertwined as friends amongst the criminal endeavors,” Singer said.
Undercover investigators would take improperly tagged deer to Rhoades, who would butcher them at his business, Rhoades Pro Cut, at his home on Slaughterhouse Road, according to the affidavit of probable cause filed with the charges.
Along with a hunting license, hunters must buy a tag from the state for each deer they expect to kill. The tags are attached to the deer carcass, and each kill must be reported to the state, even those struck and killed on a roadway.
Selling the edible parts of hunted game is illegal in the state except in special cases.
Rhoades allegedly sold investigators hundreds of pounds of venison for more than $4 per pound, as well as several bottles of moonshine over the course of about a year, officers said. Rhoades sold the moonshine, both clear and apple pie-flavored, for $20 a fifth, officers said.
Rhoades could have been charged sooner, but the game commission wanted to build as strong a case as possible before the statute of limitations expired, Singer said.
“If we're going to spend the time and the effort to get in with these guys for two years, why not let it go and see what we're working with,” he said.
It is rare for this many charges to be filed at once or for an investigation of this scale to be conducted, he said.
“It's not usual, just based on our limited availability and our low number,” he said of the officers. “But we thought the commercialization of wildlife is a big deal.”
Rhoades faces three charges of buying and selling game, eight charges of unlawful taking and possession of game or wildlife and two charges of unlawful sale of liquor.
Another butcher, Randy S. Fink, 51, of New Alexandria, faces 53 charges. An undercover investigation into his activities led to charges against several others.
Officers said Fink helped investigators purchase venison illegally from butcher Brett A. Weimer, 42, of New Alexandria.
Weimer faces a single charge of buying and selling game.
Fink allegedly used his hunting license to allow another man, who did not have a license, to sell 45 pelts — muskrat, raccoon, red fox and coyote — over three months in early 2013.
Officers have an arrest warrant for the Derry man, who is charged with 73 counts of unlawful taking and possession of game or wildlife, 45 counts of selling furs illegally, and 55 charges of illegally staking out or setting traps for animals.
Fink allegedly shot several deer illegally, using tags belonging to his wife, Carol A. Fink, 43, and his stepson, Calvin T. Bish, 25.
“They're trying to make it look like it's legal on the face of it, but it's not,” Singer said.
Neither Bish nor Carol Fink had completed the classes required to have a hunting license, police said.
Randy Fink has been charged with seven counts of taking big game beyond daily or season limits, one count of illegally buying and selling game, and 45 counts of illegally taking or possessing game.
Carol Fink has been charged with three counts each of taking big game beyond daily or season limits, lending kill tags and failing to report the killing of big game within 10 days, as well as two counts of assisting a person not entitled to obtain a license.
Bish faces four counts each of taking big game beyond daily or season limits, lending kill tags and failing to report the killing of big game.
All six will be arraigned on June 30 before Derry Township District Judge Mark J. Bilik.
Singer said more charges will be filed against some of the accused, and more individuals will be charged.
“Some of the charges against other people are a little steeper. They rise to a different level,” he said.
Jacob Tierney is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.