9 charged in Maumee River walleye overbagging OUTDOORS DATEBOOK State wildlife officers have charged eight men from Ohio and Michigan and are seeking a ninth man in a 13-month undercover investigation called Operation Numbers and centering on taking hundreds of excess walleye from the Maumee River during the last two spring runs. About 50 wildlife lawmen fanned out over the weekend across the state and to Kalamazoo, Mich., where they were assisted by lawmen from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in locating two men. The latter were charged with violating the daily spring creel limit of four walleyes on the Maumee. In all the nine men are being charged with 275 counts, mostly for exceeding the creel limit, or "overbagging." Ron Ollis, special operations supervisor for the Ohio Division of Wildlife, said that at least 570 walleye are involved during 20 days of fishing in 2006 and 2007. Ninety-seven charges have been filed in Maumee Municipal Court and 166 in Perrysburg Municipal Court. In addition 10 counts have been filed in Miami County, two in Montgomery County, one in Shelby County, and three in Champaign County. Ollis noted that only about four percent of the fish that the poachers took were snagged, or foul-hooked. "These guys were catching fish. They were good fishermen." The charges stem from documented fishing trips with undercover state lawmen, and may not include all the illegal fishing, according to Ollis. He termed some of those charged as mere opportunists "who got in with a game hog." Others, he added, "were hard-core into it." Some violators took what are supposed to be daily limits of fish up to four times a day. Operation Numbers got going in the spring of 2006, Ollis said, when Terry Sunderhaus, Wildlife District 2 law enforcement supervisor, now retired, and Steve Thomson, a district investigator, took note of what appeared to be a pattern of overbagging on the walleye runs. That sparked the undercover work that led to the dragnet against poachers. "They [violators] were moving around," Ollis said. Even diligent work by uniformed and plainclothes officers could not keep track of all their activities, so an undercover sting was set up to determine how deeply the problem ran. Those arrested include Thomas E. Crotinger, 51, of Dayton, who faces 124 charges. Ollis said he was the central figure in the case. In executing search warrants of his home wildlife lawmen were led to file deer and wild turkey-related charges as well. Those charges include hunting without permission and poaching deer and turkey in Miami, Montgomery, and Champaign counties. Ollis said Crotinger "committed some violations in the presence of investigators." A follow-up investigation led to a record-keeping charge against Rick Busse, a Shelby County taxidermist. Among two of seven searches conducted under warrants, "significant amounts" of suspected drugs were seized by lawmen. In one search a marijuana growing operation was uncovered. The drug-related information was turned over to local police. In another case several packages of suspected marijuana were seized from a freezer. Others charged in Operation Numbers include: Lloyd "Brian" Edwards, 44, of New Carlisle, Ohio, 74 counts; William Wildman, 45, of Cygnet, 38 counts; Daniel Swiergosz, 55, Toledo, 14 counts; Christopher Smith, 45, four counts, and Leslie "Steve" Szeles, 48, 10 counts, both of Kalamazoo, Mich., and Charles F. Fries, 65, of Piqua, Ohio, five counts. Another fisherman still is being sought and additional charges are pending, Ollis said. In a related case over the weekend, wildlife lawmen searched a Franklin County market in Columbus under a warrant and questioned personnel at two Chinese restaurants there in connection with illegal purchases of sport-caught fish. The case originated on the Sandusky River at Fremont, has spanned 25 months, and involves walleye, white bass, crappie, and bluegill. Charges are pending in Sandusky and Franklin counties, Ollis said. While searching the Columbus restaurant, a suspected supplier of sport-caught fish, David E. Crocket, 61, of Columbus, showed up and was recognized by lawmen. He was subsequently arrested for weapons violations and taken to Franklin County jail. Additional search warrants were obtained after the investigation of records at the market, and a 1999 Ford Expedition, a box trailer, coolers, fishing equipment, and additional records were impounded. The market and Chinese restaurants have not been charged, so their identities are not being released the wildlife supervisor said.