NPS Digest published a report yesterday about three North Carolina men, in two separate cases, that were convicted and sentenced in federal court on April 20th, one involving ginseng poaching and the other theft.
Billy Joe Hurley, 42, and Jeffrey Hurley, 34, of Bryson City, were both found guilty and sentenced to a jail term for illegal possession of American ginseng. On the same day in court, Gregory Cline, 35, also of Bryson City, pled guilty to one count of tampering in the theft of funds from a self-pay collection box located at a trailhead. He also received jail time.
In the ginseng case, each defendant pled guilty to the poaching charges. Billy Joe Hurley was sentenced to 75 days in jail and fined $5,540 in restitution to the park for possessing 554 wild ginseng roots, and Jeffrey N. Hurley was sentenced to 14 days in jail and fined $2,510 in restitution to the park for possessing 251 roots. He has appealed his conviction.
In late October 2010, as part of an ongoing investigation, a ranger apprehended the Hurley brothers in the North Carolina area of the park with over 11 pounds of freshly dug roots that had been poached in one day’s time. The roots were later aged by park biologists. They determined that most of the roots were at least 10 years old, but that some of the larger ones were 30 to 40 years old.
Each man was charged with possession of plants/parts (harvesting ginseng). The offense carries a maximum misdemeanor penalty of up to six months in jail and/or fine of up to $5,000. “Due to the high market value of ginseng, the illegal harvest of this plant continues to be a serious problem in Great Smoky Mountains National Park,” said Clay Jordan, the park’s chief ranger. “In the international and domestic legal trade market, wild ginseng can bring between $500 and $800 per pound of dried roots. The larger and older the root, the more profitable and valuable it is.”
On the same day in court, Gregory Cline was convicted of one count of tampering. After rangers determined that money was being stolen from a self-pay trail map collection box, an extended surveillance operation was conducted which netted Cline as a suspect. A federal magistrate judge for the Western District of North Carolina sentenced Cline to 57 days in jail and ordered him to pay $57 restitution to the park, the amount he had stolen. Cline has appealed the case. Over the last several years, rangers throughout the park have observed an increase in thefts from these self-pay pamphlet collection boxes. Investigations into the thefts have resulted in convictions against numerous individuals.