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Monday, October 17 • 2:05pm - 2:40pm
Law Enforcement. Whaley (Ginseng) Case

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AUTHORS: Cpl. Casey Jones, Georgia DNR-Law Enforcement Division

ABSTRACT: In the early spring of 2014 Cpl. Jones began receiving complaints of suspects harvesting ginseng out of season on Cohutta Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and surrounding private property. The complaints gave no specific information as to who was involved or when it was occurring. Cpl. Jones gained the trust of a couple of local ginseng diggers who provided him with some additional information in May of 2014. In June of 2014, Cpl. Jones was looking for a mobile Meth lab on Cohutta WMA after a tip from Murray County Investigator. Cpl. Jones located the suspect’s vehicle on the WMA and found reasonable suspicion to make a vehicle stop. Although there was no Meth lab in the vehicle, the driver was arrested for possession of methamphetamine and drug related objects. The passenger happened to be a hitch hiker who had gotten a ride back to meet his friend at another location on the WMA. After gaining consent to search the passengers backpack, he was found to be in possession of more than 200 freshly dug wild ginseng roots. The passenger and the friend he was going to meet were also the names that the local ginseng dealers had given Cpl. Jones as being the primary suspects in harvesting ginseng out of season.

From that arrest, Cpl. Jones began gathering additional information on the two suspects and others that might be involved. He utilized everyone in the work section to assist him over the next two months. In August, a few weeks before ginseng season opened, Cpl. Jones was able to apprehend the suspect. Cpl. Jones was able to determine from his months of investigating the most likely places that the suspect would be going to dig ginseng. A coordinated effort was set up along several areas to look for the suspect’s vehicle. When the vehicle was not located at any of the areas, surveillance was set up on the roads leading in and out of the areas thinking that the suspect was being dropped out to avoid leaving his vehicle out for detection. Just before dark, Cpl. Jones spotted the suspect’s vehicle entering Cohutta WMA with a female driver. Minutes later the vehicle exited the WMA with the suspect driving. Cpl. Jones followed the vehicle at a distance. Cpl. Jones and other rangers then conducted a traffic stop of the suspect where they located 85 freshly dug ginseng roots in the vehicle. The suspect also confessed to harvesting the ginseng roots on the WMA.

The following week another suspect was interviewed and confessed to harvest ginseng out of season. Two Search warrants were obtained to seize cell phones, and two additional search warrants obtained to search the contents of the phones. The GBI was utilized to pull all phone calls, text messages and photographs, from the phones. GPS coordinates and dates were obtained from the photographs to prove additional incidents where the suspects had harvested ginseng out of season and on private property without landowner permission.

In the end there were four suspects arrested on 12 charges, including 7 counts of harvesting ginseng out of season, three counts of harvesting ginseng on private property without written permission, one count of violation of US Forest Service rules on a WMA, and one count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. More than 500 illegally harvested ginseng plants were confiscated, only a small portion of what was believed to have actually been harvested.

To date the suspects are awaiting trial.

Monday October 17, 2016 2:05pm - 2:40pm
Victory Room

Attendees (5)