News Releases

Marion man accused of stealing turkey hunts; jailed on $67,000 bond

News Release

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 fraudulently."

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 Area.

"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 said.

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 selected.

However, when someone cheats the system and illegally submits more than one application, legal applicants lose out.

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 rules.

"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.



FWC Facts:
Signs on the Suwannee River warn of jumping Gulf sturgeon which, at up to 8 feet and 200 pounds, have been known to injure boaters.

Learn More at AskFWC