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Two Florida hunters bought access to hunt private land in Ohio. But when they showed up to scout, the landowner confronted them. He was not the seller of the lease, and they were trespassing. That’s when they realized they’d been conned. 

The culprit? Nathanal Knox, who was recently busted for conning at least 59 people with promises of private hunts on land in Ohio that he didn’t own. He collected $34,000 in 2019 through various payment methods, including Pay Pal and Venmo, leading to a guilty plea of wire fraud. He has now been sentenced one year and one day in prison for his illegal activities, according to the United State Department of Justice.

“The defendant’s scheme not only cheated dozens of innocent people but also put landowners and hunters in harm’s way.” Todd Kim, Justice Department Environment and Natural Resources Division assistant attorney, said in a press release

“Unfortunately, individuals can find themselves being victimized in so many different ways,” said Kenneth Parker, Southern District of Ohio U.S. attorney. “In this case, it was a fraudulent hunting lease scheme, which we shut down to ensure no other persons were taken advantage of by Knox.”

Knox reportedly charged people $400 to $5,000 per hunt based on a parcel’s perceived value. He spruced up his advertisements with photos of bucks harvested by “former clients.” Hunters typically purchased leases through two payments, first with a deposit and then the remainder. The Florida pair had already paid their deposit when they had the run-in with the real landowner. When they figured out what was going on, they set up a meeting with Knox to pay their remainder—and let law enforcement officers take it from there. 

“Protecting sustainable hunting of America’s wildlife resources is bedrock to our mission in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Edward Grace, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement assistant director. “Investigating those who prey on individuals attempting to hunt lawfully by defrauding them is our trusted responsibility to the American people.”

Judge Sarah D. Morrison of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio also sentenced Knox to three years of supervised release and restitution of $18,037. “The defendant’s crimes were deliberate, detailed, and harmed a great many people,” said Parker. “His actions not only defrauded the unwitting individuals who fell victim to Knox’s lies, but also created a potentially combustible mixture of hunters who believed they had the right to be on these properties, and the landowners, who had not given permission to these individuals to access their property. Luckily, law enforcement partners halted this scheme before anyone was injured.”

Read Next: Idaho Poachers Sentenced After Admitting to Shooting Grizzly Sow 40 Times

Hunting leases have become a common way for whitetail deer hunters to target big bucks, but some states offer other alternatives for folks to access private hunting grounds. Ohio does offer hunters access to private land through a partnership program started in 2018 funded by the Farm Bill. The state pays enrolled landowners $2 to $30 per acre for two to three years if they allow hunters access to their property. Those hunters must carry a free daily permit. 

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