On April 20, three North Carolina men were convicted and sentenced in Federal Court in Bryson City, N.C., pursuant to two separate cases in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Billy Joe Hurley, 42, and Jeffrey N. 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, of Bryson City, N.C., pled guilty to one count of tampering for 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. J. Hurley has appealed his case.
In late October 2010, as part of an ongoing investigation, a Great Smoky Mountains National Park 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 and it was determined that most of the roots were at least 10 years old, but some of the larger ones were found to be 30-40 years old. Each man was charged with Possession of Plants/Parts (Harvesting Ginseng). The offense carries a maximum misdemeanor penalty of up to 6 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 Chief Ranger Clay Jordan. “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,” he continued.
Park Rangers are deeply committed to protecting this resource and were encouraged by the sentence handed down to these two individuals to include time in jail. “We appreciate the court’s understanding of the significance of this resource and hope that these convictions will serve to discourage others from poaching in the future,” said Jordan.
On the same day in court, Gregory Cline was convicted of one count of tampering. After Park Rangers detected 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.
In the last several years, Park Rangers throughout the Park have observed an increase in thefts from these self-pay pamphlet collection boxes. Investigations into these thefts have resulted in convictions against numerous individuals. Jordan applauds the rangers’ efforts in these cases because, “Money stolen from these collection boxes are crimes against the Park, but also visitors who support the Park through purchase of these publications, produced by Great Smoky Mountains Association. Profits from these sales are returned to help support the Park’s educational, scientific, and historical programs,” he said.
The Great Smoky Mountains Association is a nonprofit organization, authorized by Congress, whose mission is to enhance public enjoyment and understanding of the national park. The Association manages the bookstores in Park visitor centers and produces quality publications and educational guides.