FWC law enforcement awards “Team of the Year” \

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FWC law enforcement awards “Team of the Year” honor to South Florida investigators

3/21/08

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Division of Law Enforcement has selected a South Florida squad of investigators as its 2008 “Team of the Year.” The winning team is headed by Lt. Alfredo Escanio and includes Investigators Manual Pomares, Maria Forrest, Andrew Carcasses, Jeff Burke, William Trubey and Arthur Matson.

The group covers three of the most active counties in the state – Dade, Broward and Collier – and in an average year stays busy. However, during the past year, the workload increased because of understaffing and a spike in boating fatalities.

Lt. Escanio’s team of experts worked with local officials from various agencies and the State Attorney’s Office to thoroughly investigate each incident, which included the loss of four lives in a boating accident near Marco Island in January 2007. Between January and July, the team investigated the deaths of 18 people related to boating accidents and drowning.

“I am very proud of this team,” said Col. Julie Jones, FWC’s Law Enforcement commander. “They exemplify the kind of people this agency is made of – professional, dedicated and adaptable.”

In addition to boating-related fatalities, the group investigated Internet sites that posted photographs and videos of fish and wildlife law violations. In one particular incident, FWC investigators received information that a great white shark was taken during a chartered fishing trip off Port Everglades in Broward County. Comments were posted on the Internet forum pages of a well-known sportsman magazine, which included links to view a video of the great white shark harvest. The investigators initiated a criminal investigation and obtained copies of the video and photographs and interviewed several witnesses and the vessel’s first mate. Investigators presented their case to the Broward County State Attorney’s Office, and the captain and first mate of the vessel were charged with the illegal harvest of a great white shark.

The squad also initiated and oversaw the investigation of illegal grouper sales and mislabeling. Operation Grouper Gate was an FWC South Region investigations detail that targeted the illegal buying and selling of fish, specifically grouper. The operation focused on saltwater retail and wholesale dealers. Approximately 407 retail and wholesale establishments were inspected during the detail. Officers and investigators issued 38 misdemeanor charges and 47 written warnings for violations ranging from importing undersize red grouper to no wholesale or retail license. They seized over 2,000 pounds of illegal product as evidence. Cases are still being made as a direct result of this operation. Concerned citizens call FWC and report violations on a daily basis.

After receiving complaints from residents over the recent death of a young woman from an alligator attack, the South Region team investigated tour boat operators who were suspected of feeding alligators. They collaborated with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office on “Operation Git-em Feeding.” This detail focused on commercial tour operators inBroward County who were feeding and molesting alligators. As a result, four misdemeanor arrests were made for feeding alligators.

Commission Chairman Rodney Barreto also praised the team.

“This state is lucky to have people of this caliber serving them,” Barreto said. “You might say that FWC officers aren’t your average ‘Joes’ or ‘Janes’ – they’re special people.”

Along with the investigations cited, the squad inspected facilities that housed and exhibited captive nonnative and dangerous wildlife, and investigated reports of escapes, attacks and injuries.

“Though working long hours, often in adverse conditions, these officers more than got the job done, and they did it with positive attitudes,” Jones said.


Media Contact:
Carol Pratt, 850-251-2212
 

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