The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation recently concluded a four-year undercover investigation into the illegal sale of fish in the Lake Eufaula area. Law enforcement officials seized a number of items as a result of the investigation, including two vehicles and two boats and expect 32 counts to be charged against six defendants. The case, named Operation Belle Starr, began after tips to the Operation Game Thief hotline alleged fish were being sold. Investigators determined a number of people were involved and were able to purchase approximately 670 pounds of blue catfish, channel catfish, flathead and crappie. Four search warrants have been served at residences in the Lake Eufaula area and additional charges could be filed as the investigation continues. Charges currently filed against the defendants include the illegal sale of game fish, the illegal sale of non-game fish and illegally buying game fish. "We are very proud of our officers and the professional manner in which they have pursued this investigation," said Dennis Maxwell, assistant chief of law enforcement for the Department. "This case is a perfect example of how citizens can make a difference by getting involved when they become aware of illegal activities that not only damage fish and wildlife resources, but also the reputations of law-abiding sportsmen. Operation Game Thief allows the public the opportunity to remain anonymous and assist us by providing information we can use to pursue these types of violations." The illegal sale of, or offering or exposing for sale, protected fish or wildlife is a misdemeanor which carries a maximum fine of $500, plus court-costs, and up to 60 days in jail for each count. State law also allows for the forfeiture of vehicles, boats, freezers and any other equipment used in violation of the statute.
Anyone who knows of illegal activities regarding fish and wildlife can call Operation Game Thief at 1-800-522-8039 Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Cash rewards may be given for information leading to a conviction. Callers are not required to give their names, but are instead assigned a number which will allow them to collect their rewards while remaining anonymous.