Marion man accused of stealing turkey hunts; jailed on $67,000 bond
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Media contact: Joy Hill, 352-258-3426; or Capt. Gregg Eason, 352-732-1225
Saturday was the opening day of the coveted spring
turkey season in Central Florida, and while many avid hunters were
legally seeking the elusive bird, one man was spending opening
morning in the Marion County Jail on $67,000 bond.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
(FWC) law enforcement officers arrested 48-year-old Keith Allen
Kelly (DOB 05/04/61) of Salt Springs on numerous felony fraud
charges related to illegally obtaining quota permits for last
year's turkey hunt. In addition to the fraud charges, Kelly is
facing one felony and two misdemeanor drug charges.
"This is the largest and most in-depth case of its
kind in Florida, at least that I'm aware of," said FWC Law
Enforcement Officer Troy Starling.
After a year-long investigation, Starling surprised
Kelly at his home at 24850 N.E. 132nd Place early Saturday with a
warrant for his arrest. Kelly cooperated, and Starling transported
him to Ocala, where he booked him into jail without incident.
The charges are six felony counts of identity fraud; six
felony counts of common-law cheat or fraud (applying for turkey
hunting permits under another person's name on the Internet); one
felony count of possession of methamphetamine; one misdemeanor
count of possession of marijuana, 20 grams or less; and one
misdemeanor count of possession of drug paraphernalia.
The felony charges carry a maximum penalty of five
years in jail and $5,000 fine; the maximum penalty for the
misdemeanors is a year in jail and $1,000 fine.
"This is not the typical poaching arrest; it has
taken more than 100 hours of investigative manpower to bring
this case to prosecution," said Capt. Gregg Eason, area and
investigative supervisor for the FWC. "With the assistance of
the Florida Department of Law Enforcement crime lab, we were able
to pull critical information from Mr. Kelly's computer,
showing us exactly whose personal information had been used
Starling opened his investigation of Kelly last
April after receiving complaints from other hunters over the past
couple of years that Kelly was allegedly unlawfully manipulating
the state's spring turkey hunt quota permit system. By doing so,
the complainants said, Kelly was able to obtain the majority of
quota permits available for certain wildlife management areas,
including the Gores Landing Unit, three units within the Ocala
Wildlife Management Area, and the Caravelle Wildlife Management
"Hunters were complaining, saying that while they
applied for permits properly, they felt they were being cheated by
Mr. Kelly, who was somehow manipulating the system, giving him a
better opportunity to get hunts for certain areas," Starling
In order to hunt turkeys on certain public lands,
hunters must obtain a quota hunt permit for the specific area. In
addition to bag limits, the quota permit system is a tool wildlife
biologists use to manage the turkey population by limiting the
number of hunters allowed to hunt on specific lands during specific
times. A person may apply only one time for each hunt, which in
theory provides a fair opportunity for everyone who applies to be
However, when someone cheats the system and
illegally submits more than one application, legal applicants lose
For years, quota hunt permits were transferrable if
a recipient couldn't use one he or she received. However, the
system, while well-intentioned, was flawed and the FWC changed the
"Beginning with the 2009-2010 hunting season, the
FWC changed the quota permits to non-transferable. This means
that only the hunter whose name appears on the permit may
hunt. In addition, that hunter may receive a 'guest permit'
and take a friend or family member hunting," said Dr. Don
Coyner, a section leader in the FWC's Division of Hunting and Game
Management. "The guest must share the bag limit with the
host. We believe this will go a long way towards eliminating
this type of activity on public lands, providing more opportunity
and a level playing field to all hunters in Florida."
Kelly is charged with identity theft for using
other people's names and personal information, and his mailing
address, to apply for each hunt, thereby giving him a greater
chance of obtaining a permit.
In some cases the people whose names he used didn't
even know him; others knew him but did not give him permission to
use their personal information.
"Not only did Mr. Kelly cheat the system, he stole
personal information from law-abiding hunters he had guided on
previous hunts," Eason said. "Mr. Kelly kept personal
information on hunters for years after he provided guiding services
for them. Knowing a lot of his clients were from
out-of-state, he felt safe the unsuspecting hunters would not find
out about his illegal operation."
If you know someone cheating the system or
otherwise violating fish, wildlife or boating laws, turn them in by
calling the toll-free Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922)
or click on the Wildlife Alert banner at MyFWC.com. Tipsters may
remain anonymous and are eligible for a reward if their information
leads to arrest.