U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy J. Sullivan Wednesday sentenced Larry Eugene Harding, 57, of Friendsville, and Wallace A. Harward, 58, of Forest Hill, to pay a fine and restitution totaling $8,000 and $5,000, respectively, after the defendants pleaded guilty to violating Maryland black bear hunting regulations.
In addition, Magistrate Judge Sullivan sentenced Harding and Harward to five years of probation and ordered each to perform 25 hours of community service for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. During their probation, Harding and Harward are precluded from any guiding activity involving commercial hunting, and are precluded from personally hunting for three years.
The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Colonel George F. Johnson IV, superintendent of the Maryland Natural Resources Police; and Honora Gordon, regional special agent in charge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“The combined penalties in this case represent one of the most substantial sentences for a Maryland wildlife poaching case in more than two decades,” said Johnson. “Because Maryland is a member of the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact, Harding and Harward are also barred from hunting or guiding in 44 other states in the U.S. during the term of their suspensions. In addition, Harward’s Maryland waterfowl outfitters license will be immediately revoked and he will be prohibited from renewing during the term of his license suspension.”
According to their plea agreements, between 2008 and 2010, Harding who operated Harding’s Wild Mountain Herbs, Inc., and Harward, who operated Timber Creek Services, engaged in commercial hunting activities for American black bear, mostly in Garrett County. Hunting for black bear is highly regulated in Maryland. Restrictions included a prohibition on the use of bait to attract the bear, as well as requirements that hunters associated with each other on the same hunting permit remain within view of each other while hunting.
During the course of an undercover investigation by NRP and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, law enforcement discovered that Harding and Harward were using bait to attract bears to locations where hunters – who had paid Harding and Harward to be guided in their pursuit of the bear – could more easily kill one of the animals. The undercover officers also learned that the defendants were violating the Maryland regulations that required a sub-licensee on a black bear hunting permit to remain in visual contact with the licensee.
During the course of the investigation, undercover officers posed as clients, paying Harding and Harward for guided bear hunts. Their investigation found Harding and Harward were illegally baiting bears for paying clients, some of whom came from outside Maryland to hunt.
During the hunts, Harding and Harward placed apples to bait the black bears, then led the hunters to those locations. For example, on October 25, 2009, Harding directed the undercover officers to the Raven Rock area near Friendsville, showing them where the bears would likely show up the next day. The following day, two hunters – one of them an undercover officer – taking part in a guided hunt led by Harding and Harward each killed a black bear over bait. The undercover officer shot his bear from a spot suggested by Harding, overlooking a pile of illegal bait. Harward also violated the terms of his hunting permit by remaining out of visual contact when the other hunter shot his bear. The bears killed by the hunter and the undercover officer were subsequently taken to a cooler located in the building where Harding conducted his business. Harding took photographs of the bears and the hunters, while Harward was recording the event with a video camera. Inside the cooler where the bear carcasses and skins were placed, the undercover officers saw five 25-gallon plastic garbage cans full of apple skins and cores, consistent with the apple pieces in the bait pile seen by the undercover officers.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised the Maryland Natural Resources Police and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney P. Michael Cunningham, who prosecuted the case.
On Harding’s Facebook page for his ginseng business, he posted a news article from a Baltimore TV station about Kentucky men who were also very unfair with nature and allegedly stole valuable ginseng from a garden farm in Friendsville, Md., perhaps that owned by Harding.