Wednesday, September 04, 2002

Wealthy Chrysler Heiress Fined for Killing Hawks

The arrogance of some people knows no bounds. This account from the Philadelphia Inquirer was published on or about August 29 (I first saw it on the BirdHawk listserv that same day):

Chester County, PA, Heiress Will Pay for Her Hatred of Hawks. The raptors played havoc with her hunting-dog training–but they had federal protection.
by Ralph Vigoda, Inquirer Staff Writer

Gwynne G. McDevitt, a 71-year-old heiress, was being pestered by hawks on her Doubledee Farm and Kennels in Chester County.

A trainer of hunting dogs on the estate, she saw the quail, pigeons and pheasant she released as crucial in teaching her canines to flush game birds.

The hawks saw the birds as dinner.

Determined to get rid of the raptors, McDevitt put a $25 bounty on the head of each bird–a species protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the government said yesterday. Employee Artimus Jenkins, 62, of West Chester, allegedly obliged, trapping or killing 171 hawks for her.

McDevitt, a multi-millionaire whose grandfather was auto magnate Walter P. Chrysler, and Jenkins were charged yesterday with violating the migratory bird law. Both agreed to a proposed plea bargain that would keep them out of jail.

U.S. Attorney Patrick L. Meehan said McDevitt “took matters into her own hands ”after she was denied a permit by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to trap and remove the hawks from the sprawling property–tax rolls indicate she owns at least 170 acres–on Delchester Road in Willistown Township.

McDevitt, whose third husband, Richard McDevitt, was the longtime head of the Devon Horse Show, faced three federal counts that could have put her in prison for 18 months. She accepted penalties including house detention, 200 hours of community service, five years of probation and nearly $130,000 in fines and restitution.

She also was ordered to write a statement to appear as an “advertisement” in Gun Dog magazine, aimed at those who train hunting dogs, in which she admits her crime and details her penalties.

Reached last night at another of her homes, in Delaware, Gwynne McDevitt said, “I just have nothing to say.”

In her statement for the magazine, made available by the government, she wrote: “A word of caution to my friends:

“I was recently prosecuted criminally for violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a federal misdemeanor. I had the hawks killed because they were interfering with my training of hunting dogs. … There are serious consequences for killing hawks. Damage to game birds is not a defense.”

Jenkins was one of as many as seven employees who helped McDevitt train 20 hunting dogs and four horses. His job was to feed and maintain her pigeons. Charged with one count, he cooperated in the investigation that included federal wildlife inspectors and the FBI ’s environmental unit. He agreed to a $2,500 fine and probation.

Both of the agreements must be approved by a federal judge. McDevitt’s New York lawyer, Daniel Sullivan, is on vacation and could not be reached. Jenkins’ Philadelphia lawyer, Catherine Recker, declined to comment.

McDevitt, who would be fined the maximum $45,000, is to make payments of $42,250 each to the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Philadelphia and to Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research in Newark, Del.

“Being a multimillionaire who inherited a substantial fortune from her parents, McDevitt has sufficient ability to pay these financial penalties immediately,” the government says in court papers. "McDevitt's conduct was egregious, systematic, long-term, in complete disregard for the law, and highly damaging to the environment.”

According to the government, McDevitt began training dogs in the mid-1980s for competitions in which they simulate hunts. When the hawks began feasting on the birds, she complained to her dog trainer and was put in touch with a man who made three traps for $125 each. They were ineffective.

In 1997 McDevitt applied to the Fish and Wildlife Service for a permit to trap and relocate six hawks. The application was denied.

“Rather than adjust to the situation, she worked with someone else to take matters into her own hands,” Meehan said.

McDevitt asked Jenkins to strengthen the traps, the government says. He used pigeons as bait. As a hawk landed on a perch, the trap would collapse and enclose the raptor in wire mesh. Jenkins then killed the bird with a shot to the head from a pellet gun and illegally disposed of the carcasses
in a local dump, according to court papers.

Beginning in August 1999, Jenkins submitted bills to McDevitt, marking each with a picture of a bird and the date it was killed.

Meehan said a tip from an informant led officials to the farm, where they observed the activity. The charges say the 171 hawks were killed between August 1999 and June of this year. Specifically cited are the killing of three hawks in May.

“This is uniquely important because of the value of hawks and other kinds of migratory birds to the ecosystem,” Meehan said.
This news was then picked up by an Associated Press reporter, who filed this story:

Woman to Pay Fine in Hawks' Deaths
by David B. Caruso
.c The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A millionaire agreed to pay a fine and publicize her misdeeds for illegally trapping and killing 171 federally protected hawks on her farm and hunting preserve.

Gwynne G. McDevitt, 71, and a 62-year-old farmhand intend to plead guilty to violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, according to court papers filed Tuesday.

Under a plea bargain, McDevitt agreed to pay a $45,000 fine and $84,500 in restitution for ordering her staff to trap and kill the hawks. The hawks had been feasting on game birds at
her sprawling suburban Philadelphia estate and interfering with her efforts to train hunting dogs.

McDevitt, onwer of Doubledee Farm and Kennels, also agreed to perform 200 hours community service and take out an advertisement in Gun Dog magazine describing her prosecution.

The plea deal must be approved by a federal judge.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan said the hunts were "a deliberate systematic violation of the law.''

McDevitt keeps horses, trains as many as 20 dogs at a time and raises raises pigeons and stocks the farm with quail and pheasants for the dogs to hunt, prosecutors said.

In the late 1990s, hawks began preying on the smaller birds, but her application to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a permit to trap the hawks was denied.

Starting in late 1999, investigators said McDevitt bought stronger traps and instructed Artimus Jenkins to bait them with live pigeons and shoot each hawk in the head.

As many as 15 carcasses were dumped in a nearby landfill each month, authorities said.

Neither McDevitt nor Jenkins answered phone calls for comment Tuesday. McDevitt's attorney, Daniel Sullivan, did not immediately return a call to his New York office.

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