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Jessamine candidate runs afoul of wildlife laws

NICHOLASVILLE — A candidate for Jessamine County judge-executive paid $733 in fines and court costs last month after pleading guilty to illegally importing protected wildlife into Kentucky.

Mark A. Tucker, 50, the Republican candidate for judge-executive, pleaded guilty in June to illegally buying and importing wild turkeys and to buying them without a permit. All the charges are violations punishable by fines.

Tucker, who owns a carpet-cleaning company and a fire- and water-damage restoration company, said he'd been planning to run for several years before he was charged. He faces incumbent Judge-Executive Neal Cassity in the November general election.

"I think the whole thing is ridiculous, and it's one of the reasons why I'm running," Tucker said. "I'm running because laws need to be changed, and I would like to be in a position to help my county."

It is illegal for the general public to possess a live wild turkey in Kentucky. A wildlife transportation permit, issued by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, is required of anyone bringing wildlife into the state.

Wildlife biologists say importing wild turkeys into Kentucky puts the state's native turkeys at risk of contracting diseases for which they have no natural immunities.

"It's a pretty serious issue with wildlife, and it's well-documented that an awful lot of wildlife diseases are transported around the state on the backs of trucks," said Mark Marraccini, spokesman for the department. "It's a big concern to biologists who work with and manage our wildlife resources."

Tucker said Monday he was unaware that a permit is needed to buy wild turkeys. He said the turkeys he bought as chicks and raised to 20- to 30-pound adults were meant to be eaten, and he had no intention of releasing the birds into the wild.

Tucker said the birds he bought are "domesticated fowl. They're not wildlife."

"I wasn't going to release them. I was raising them to eat. As a matter of fact, they stayed with the rest of my turkeys right there ... in a fenced-in area," Tucker said. "My birds were vaccinated, and they were healthier than the ones that are in the wild."

Although he was charged with buying and possessing six turkeys, Tucker had already eaten two, and a raccoon killed a third. Tucker said the state confiscated the remaining three birds and killed them.

Tucker pleaded guilty to six counts of "propagation and holding of protected wildlife without a permit" and one count of "buying/selling/transporting of protected wildlife." Five other counts of the latter charge were merged into one count.

Jessamine District Judge Janet Booth fined him $50 on each count of the propagation and holding charge, and $300 on the buying/selling/transporting charge, plus $133 in court costs.