Weedsport man arrested for posing as DEC police officer and stealing rifle from hunter

A 24-year-old Weedsport man is facing five felony charges after authorities arrested him for posing as a Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC ECO) police officer and stealing a rifle from a hunter in Cayuga County.

According to DEC, a man later identified as Zachary Harvey approached a squirrel hunter in the Howland Island Wildlife Management Area around September 6, claiming to be an undercover ECO.

Harvey, who had been fishing at the time and was in plain clothes, demanded to see the squirrel hunter’s hunting license, Lt. Kevin Thomas, one of the ECOs who investigated the incident, said in a video posted on the Facebook page. of DEC.

“The victim thought [Harvey] he was a real undercover agent,” Thomas said. “Her little plan of his worked.”

Harvey then demanded to see the hunting licenses of the other people in the victim’s hunting party, DEC said, in addition to their firearms.

“He took all of his hunting licenses, pretended to go through all of them and took all of his firearms,” ​​Thomas said.

After faking a phone call with the local sheriff’s department, in which he pretended to be checking firearm serial numbers, Harvey “just walked away” with the squirrel catcher’s .22 rifle, informing him later by mail. email that the rifle was “illegal” under New York state’s new gun laws, Thomas said.

At one point during the confrontation, one of the victims had asked to see Harvey’s badge, but Harvey only showed them a photo of one on his phone, Thomas said.

“Most of the time, if an ECO reviews it, it will be us in uniform,” Thomas said, adding that cautious victims were able to “get video of the suspect, which helped our investigation immensely.”

Two ECOs tracked down Harvey and took him into custody without incident, also recovering the stolen rifle, DEC said. Harvey is charged with two counts of criminal identity theft, two counts of grand theft and one count of criminal possession of stolen property, all felonies.

DEC reported that in 2021, 282 ECOs and investigators across the state responded to 26,207 calls and worked on cases resulting in 11,562 tickets or arrests for violations ranging from deer poaching to solid waste dumping, illegal mining, the black market pet trade and excess emissions violations.

Steve Featherstone covers the outdoors for The Post-Standard, siracusa.com Y NYUP.com. Contact him at sfeatherstone@syracuse.com or on Twitter @feather outdoors. You can also follow all of our outdoor content on newyorkupstate.com/outdoors/ or follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/upstatenyoutdoors.