Three men and a company, all of Slidell, La., are at the center of a 13-count federal indictment filed Wednesday in Gulfport involving the illegal importation of live white-tailed deer into Mississippi.

U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis and Special Agent Luis Santiago of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that Ronald W. Reine, 67, Brian R. Reine, 44, Bruce Swilley, Jr., 27 and Omni Pinnacle, LLC, were charged with various violations of the Lacey Act.

Mississippi law makes it unlawful to import live white-tailed deer, under regulations established by the state’s Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks to prevent introduction of diseases like Chronic Wasting Disease.

“The illegal importation of white-tailed deer into Mississippi is a growing problem with the potential for a devastating impact on our native deer herd,” Davis said in a press release issued Wednesday afternoon by the Department of Justice’s Jackson office. “This indictment is the beginning of our efforts to combat the illegal importation of white-tailed deer and we will continue to partner with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks to identify, investigate and prosecute people who have chosen to violate the law on importing white-tail deer.”

The Lacey Act makes it unlawful for any person to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire or purchase wildlife that were taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of any law or regulation of any state, the release stated. According to the release, the offense becomes a felony crime if the wildlife has a market value in excess of $350.

According to the indictment, from January of 2011 through December of 2012, the Reines, Swilley and Omni Pinnacle, LLC, a company owned by the Reines, conspired to ship white-tailed deer in violation of state and federal laws.

The indictment also states that Brian R. Reine operated a wildlife enclosure in Lamar County known as Half Moon Ranch, and that Ronald Reine operated a similar enclosure in Pearl River County known as Oak Investments LLC, or “Hunter’s Bluff.” The indictment alleges that it was part of the conspiracy that the defendants would bring the deer into Mississippi for the purpose of breeding and killing trophy buck deer. 

According to the indictment, the defendants bought and illegally transported deer into Mississippi from Indiana and Pennsylvania, and that Swilley went to the states to handle the transportation. The indictment accuses Swilley and Brian Reine of making false statements to the sellers, or on Certificates of Veterinary Inspection, by claiming that the deer were being taken to Louisiana, not Mississippi.

The defendants were arraigned in U.S. District Court Wednesday and each was released on a $25,000 unsecured bond. A trial is scheduled for March 17 before U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden in Gulfport. 

If convicted, the defendants face a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine on each count. Omni Pinnacle, LLC faces a maximum fine of $500,000. 

The indictment doesn’t say how many deer were involved, but does include a forfeiture notice that the government plans to seize all deer brought into Mississippi, plus a 2009 Ford truck and a breeding trailer.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Darren J. LaMarca.