Three people in Wisconsin have been charged with illegally trying to use sturgeon caviar in exchange for a variety of products.
Law enforcement agencies caught three Fond du Lac County residents during an in-depth investigation into the illegal practice of bartering caviar pulled from sturgeon fish.
No More “Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams”
Court records list the suspects’ names and their charges. The online accounts state that 51-year-old Shawn Wendt of Oakfield is being charged with two misdemeanor counts of unlawfully selling or bartering eggs. If found guilty, Wendt is looking at a year in jail and $4,000 in fines.
According to a criminal complaint, a warden for the Wisconsin DNR spoke with Wendt at a restaurant in January 2020. The interview was part of an ongoing investigation into an increase in sturgeon caviar processing. Both the state and federal governments prohibit the sale, trade, or barter of sturgeon caviar.
The complaint says that Wendt confesses he’s been in the business of turning sturgeon eggs into caviar for the past 15 years. Wendt admits that when individuals brought him eggs, he would then process them, turning them into an expensive delicacy. He also says he would keep some of the caviar so he could serve at his restaurant.
However, he denies ever paying for eggs or making premeditated plans on how much money he would receive for the exchange.
An Elderly Couple Suffers the Consequences
Two individuals in their 80s have also received misdemeanor charges of bartering with the eggs. Mary Schneider, 86, and Victor Schneider, 88, of Fond du Lac are each facing charges of misdemeanor bartering of eggs.
Court documents state that the couple told Wisconsin DNR wardens that the sturgeon anglers brought eggs to be processed into caviar. The Schneiders also admitted they would keep half of the score as a form of compensation.
Wisconsin DNR Wardens Are Part of Investigation
There’s a giant twist to this story involving the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The wardens’ jobs are to protect the state’s wildlife and natural habitat. However, one is accused of behaving in the exact opposite manner.
Recent records claim that former DNR Chief Warden Todd Schaller would stop by the Schneider’s home to pick up his own caviar. In January 2020, Chief Warden Schaller retired from the DNR. Sarah Hoye is the Wisconsin department’s spokeswoman, but she is declining to comment on the situation. She said the agency doesn’t comment on ongoing investigations.
Wisconsin DNR’s top sturgeon expert, Ryan Koenigs, is facing charges of obstructing the investigation.
He reported to investigators that DNR workers are illegally taking eggs that spearers turned in for research reasons. Allegedly, the workers then secretly funnel the eggs to caviar processors. In doing so, they will receive personal jars of the fish eggs that are pricey and considered a delicacy.
Koenigs previously denied any involvement or knowledge regarding the DNR staff’s role in the illegal activity.