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July 12, 2000

For more information contact:
Natalie Baratta-Verdi at 609-777-4194

According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Fish & Wildlife, four Division staff members were recently honored with Outstanding Service Awards. Assistant Director David Chanda, Bureau of Law Enforcement Chief Rob Winkel, Conservation Officer Mark Leonard and Special Investigations Officer Tim Cussen were presented with various awards for their exceptional service and commitment related to wildlife conservation in New Jersey.

Assistant Director David Chanda and Conservation Officer Mark Leonard were presented awards at the Northeast Fish and Wildlife Conference in West Virginia last April. Chanda, former Chief of the Division's Office of Information and Education, was presented with the 1999 "Conservation Communicator of the Year" award by the Northeast Conservation Information & Education Association. Chanda was selected from all wildlife agency communicators in the northeastern section of the United States and Canada.

A certified wildlife biologist with a Masters in Public Administration, he has been working in the field of wildlife education for nearly 25 years. As Office of Information and Education Chief, Chanda was responsible for a statewide public education program. He was also instrumental in bringing the popular "Becoming an Outdoors Woman" program to New Jersey and served as a technical advisor for the Division's latest documentary about striped bass entitled Jersey Gold as well as two Emmy award-winning documentaries Bear Country - New Jersey and Deer Crossing. An accomplished writer, Chanda has authored thousands of wildlife-related new releases and articles. He was recently promoted to Assistant Director of Operations where he is responsible for the Division's Bureaus of Wildlife Management, Fisheries Management, Law Enforcement and Land Management.

Mark Leonard, a Conservation Officer with the Division since 1989, was presented with the New Jersey 1999 "Conservation Officer of the Year" award by the Shikar Safari Club International (SSCI). Each year, SSCI requests the Division of Natural Resource or its equivalent department in each of the 50 states, 10 provinces and two Canadian territories to select a recipient in their organization to receive the award. SSCI will then make a significant contribution to the National Foundation for Conservation and Wildlife Officers, which assists widows and orphans of conservation officers killed in the line of duty.

Leonard was chosen in recognition of his dedicated service and exemplary performance in protecting wildlife, enforcing game laws and implementing New Jersey's conservation programs. Throughout his 11-year career, Leonard has established himself as a hard-working individual whose perseverance in investigating complicated cases has resulted in prosecuting numerous fish and wildlife violators. The variety of cases he has investigated include fraud, license theft, deer hunting at night, illegal collecting of nongame and endangered species, pollution and solid waste violations, and fish and wildlife investigations, some of which have resulted in criminal charges. Leonard has established a well-respected working relationship with the sportsmen and agricultural community of Burlington County creating a more cooperative association between these two parties and the Division.

Law Enforcement Chief Rob Winkel was recently honored at the second annual Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's (ASMFC) Awards of Excellence Ceremony held in Portland Maine. Winkel, involved in marine law enforcement for more than 20 years, received the 2000 "Award of Excellence" in the area of law enforcement for his commitment to protecting Atlantic coastal marine resources for future generations by ensuring that fisheries regulations remain workable, enforceable and understandable to the public. Winkel has been an active participant in fishery management activities of the ASMFC and the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council. He has been particularly instrumental in the development of regulations for such species as summer flounder, scup, black sea bass, tautog and horseshoe crab.

Conservation Officer Timothy Cussen was awarded the "Command Citation" award from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife's Bureau of Law Enforcement for his outstanding performance, initiative and superb judgement as a member of the Division's Special Investigation Unit (SIU). The SIU, a team of three, was formed in July 1995 to assist the uniformed officers of the Division by specializing in undercover investigation of commercial wildlife crime.

Due to the nature of undercover work, officers must become involved with people they would much rather arrest than befriend. In the vast percentage of cases, the officer must work unarmed to avoid detection as a conservation officer. Many times, only quick thinking stands between success and disaster. The role SIU officers must play when in the company of suspects also requires a significant lifestyle change. Not only is the officer required to alter his or her appearance, but must also modify dress, speech and mannerisms. Some assignments even require an officer to live away from home and travel from state to state.

The single largest case Cussen was involved with targeted 26 restaurants and fish markets. In this case, Cussen and other SIU officers created a business selling legal fish to a list of suspected establishments supplied by an informant. Before long, the suspects were inquiring to purchase illegal species such as striped bass, deer and bears. The investigation verified the managers' intent to obtain illegal finfish and market them as hybrids after filleting them to alter their appearance. In this case, 22 businesses pleaded guilty to charges, paying more than $37,000 in fines.

During Cussen's three-year assignment with the Special Investigations Unit, more than 53 individuals were charged with 355 violations. The charges filed resulted in more than $140,000 in assessed penalties.