August 11, 2022

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Ohio Man Pleads Guilty to Wire Fraud in Exchange for Purported Hunting Leases

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<div>An Ohio man pleaded guilty to wire fraud for operating a scheme where he solicited payment in exchange for purported hunting leases he had no rights to sell.</div>

An Ohio man pleaded guilty to wire fraud for operating a scheme where he solicited payment in exchange for purported hunting leases he had no rights to sell.

According to court documents, throughout 2019, Nathanal L. Knox, 30, of Ohio, operated a scheme where he placed online advertisements for hunting leases supposedly available on several parcels of land in Ohio. The defendant in fact had no rights to sell leases to the properties in question. He placed the advertisements on at least 38 different Facebook pages, including “Hunt Florida,” “Ohio Hunting Lease,” “Bow Hunting PA,” and “Alabama Deer Hunters.”

In these advertisements, the defendant solicited payment in exchange for purported hunting leases. The prices charged ranged from $400 to $5,000. The defendant requested payment from prospective clients be made through PayPal, Walmart 2 Walmart, Money Gram, Western Union and Venmo. When individuals inquired further about the purported leases, the defendant would provide pictures of mature bucks that he falsely claimed had been harvested by former clients on the parcels in question. After receiving initial payments, the defendant would send contracts and instructions via email.

The defendant was arrested on Sept. 30, 2019, by the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office while attempting to collect the second half of a $5,000 fee owed by two victims from Florida. The victims had travelled to the supposed lease site to scout the area, and been confronted by the landowner, at which point they learned they had been defrauded. They then contacted the Sheriff’s office and set up the meeting with the defendant, at which point he was arrested. During this time, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife had received multiple complaints from landowners as well. Upon receiving the complaints, investigators obtained a copy of the initial sheriff’s report and began searching for the remaining victims through social media posts.

The investigation, carried out by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife, in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, involved search warrants on social media accounts, subpoenas on payment facilitators, interviews of victims, and interviews of the target and related subjects. In total, the defendant solicited payment from at least 68 different individuals, all of whom resided outside of Ohio. At least 59 of these individuals sent initial payments to the defendant, totaling over $34,000.

“The Department of Justice prosecutes fraud in many forms,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The defendant’s scheme not only cheated dozens of innocent people, but also put landowners and hunters in harm’s way. The Department is grateful to its law enforcement partners for stopping Knox before anyone was injured.”

“Unfortunately, individuals can find themselves being victimized in so many different ways,” said U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Parker for the Southern District of Ohio. “In this case, it was a fraudulent hunting lease scheme, which we shut down to ensure no other persons were taken advantage of by Knox. The 59 persons who sent an initial payment to this defendant are 59 victims too many.”

“Protecting sustainable hunting of America’s wildlife resources is bedrock to our mission in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Assistant Director Edward Grace of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement. “Investigating those who prey on individuals attempting to hunt lawfully by defrauding them is our trusted responsibility to the American people.”

“We value our landowners and work hard to protect their interests as well as the interests of hunters. This case shows the results of that work,” said Kendra Wecker, Chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife. “If you witness a wildlife violation in Ohio, we encourage you to call 1-800-WILDLIFE. Reports are kept anonymous, and you will be doing a great service to protect Ohio’s wildlife resources.”

Knox pleaded guilty to wire fraud. He is scheduled to be sentenced in the coming months and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Wildlife, in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are investigating the case.

Trial Attorney Adam Cullman of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, Environmental Crimes Section; Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, J. Michael Marous for the Southern District of Ohio; and Assistant Attorney General Sally Smetzer Montell of Ohio are prosecuting the case.

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