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Wildlife commissioner being investigated for allegedly baiting turkeys in Holmes County

Image courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks

Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks Commissioner Leonard Bentz has once again found himself in the center of controversy, and this time, he’s being accused of illegally baiting turkeys.

On Monday, the MDWFP chose not to issue an official statement but instead confirmed to SuperTalk Mississippi News that an investigation is underway into three to four hunters for an incident that occurred on a piece of hunting land in Holmes County. This confirmation came after sources told us that Bentz and his two sons – Leonard III and Hunter – were among a group of hunters allegedly breaking a state law that says it’s illegal to hunt or trap any wild animal or wild bird with the aid of bait.

According to those sources, an anonymous tip led outdoor officials on Friday to a baited field at a location where suspicious hunting activity has allegedly occurred in the past. MDWFP law enforcement responded to the scene to work the case.

Commissioner Leonard Bentz
Commissioner Leonard Bentz (Photo courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks)

In response to an inquiry about the incident, Bentz said he and his guests were hunting on his friend’s property after being ensured that it had not been illegally baited. Bentz, who is one of five people on the state’s wildlife commission, said a conservation officer approached his group around 7 a.m. and told them that the landowner and caretaker of the property had bought crickets several days ahead of the hunters’ arrival and released them onto the 500-acre plot.

“The tip that I or any one of my guest (sic) were caught baiting turkeys is untrue,” Bentz wrote in an email. “The truth is, my guest (sic) and I were hunting on a piece of property owned by a friend of mine who assured me that there was not bait on the property.”

The commissioner vouched that he had personally inspected the roads and feeders to reiterate that he and his crew would not be breaking the law during their hunt. He even said that when officers showed up, he had the landowner come speak with them. The unidentified property owner assured the officer that the guests had no prior knowledge of the crickets being used and even said that he did not know it was illegal to place the bugs on his hunting land.

“The officer responded, saying they were going to gather all the evidence, take the landowner’s information, and citations for the landowner and caretaker would more than likely be forthcoming once they decided the appropriate statute violation,” Bentz continued. “Furthermore, the conservation officer stated, that the guests did not do anything wrong. I would like to thank our conservation officers for the work they did on this case.”

Even if Bentz did not have knowledge of the baiting, hunters in Mississippi can still be penalized for hunting on baited land even if they claim to have had no previous awareness that illicit measures were taken to lure wild animals.

Bentz is a former member of the Mississippi House of Representatives and served as public service commissioner of the state’s southern district before being appointed to the MDWFP Commission by Gov. Tate Reeves in 2021 and reappointed in July 2023. His reappointment is expected to be taken up in the Senate sometime this month, and it’s unclear if the allegations will play any role in lawmakers’ decision to approve a new term.

His son, Bentz III, is a former D’Iberville police officer currently working as an officer with the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce. MDAC confirmed via email that Bentz III was off duty at the time of the incident and they were not aware of any citations at this time.

MDWFP Executive Director Lynn Posey said the agency is currently refraining from making any additional comments due to the ongoing nature of the investigation.

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