Dozens of animals and eight individuals made up one of the largest poaching rings in recent history in the Buckeye State. The charges were something you would be more accustomed to seeing from gangster and mafia bosses and included money laundering, grand theft, telecommunications fraud and racketeering among many others.
All told, the eight individuals were handed 66 charges by Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley as was announced by officials from Ohio’s Division of Wildlife.
The undercover sting operation, covertly known as “Operation North Coast” was kicked off accidentally, when an undercover wildlife officer ran into the ringleader, John Zayac in a bar back in 2013. While investigating another case, the officer was immediately enamored with Zayac’s boastful manner in which he described the number of deer he killed and the money he made selling the meat.
Eventually, the undercover agent was able to convince Zayac to allow him to take part in one of the hunts, spurring the massive investigation that eventually nabbed Zayac and seven accomplices.
With Zayac’s picture sitting atop the pyramid that looks more like something out of a Scorsese movie, Todd Neczeporenko, Terrance Ankrom, John Stofan, Rebecca Gregerson, Tina Ankrom, John Frost and Craig Steed were pictured below in the organizational chart and charged Tuesday in court.
“These are racketeers in camouflage,” Assistant Cuyahoga County Prosecutor James Gutierrez said.
As details of the poaching operation were uncovered, prosecutors revealed that Zayac organized hunts on private properties scattered across Broadview Heights, Brecksville, and North Royalton – all areas with healthy deer populations.
Prosecutors indicated that Zayac, Ankrom, and Stofan used bows to take 39 deer, including 22 bucks over two hunting seasons, surpassing state bag limits. To skirt the regulations, Zayac left a number of deer unreported and used his wife and Terrance Ankrom’s wife to falsify state check-in tags.
It was reported that over those two hunting seasons, Todd Neczeporenko processed 2,000 pounds of meat at his processing business known as Smokin’ T’s.
When investigators raided the home of Zayac in the spring of 2016, they seized over 50 taxidermied buck heads, $50,000 in cash and his Ford F-150 truck. Additionally, investigators uncovered Zayac’s ‘little black book’, detailing illegal deer kills dating has far back as the 1980’s.
If convicted of all counts and given the maximum sentence, the group could face up to 55 years in prison and $225,000 in restitution back to the state, officials said.