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hey swept in after dark on a cold winter’s night: some 30 armed wardens backed by state troopers and shadowed by two film crews from the television show “North Woods Law.” Riding in two dozen vehicles, lights flashing, they rushed up the only road into Allagash as a convoy, then began peeling off in groups to simultaneously raid or visit nine residences housing one-fifth of this isolated hamlet’s population.

At that very moment, in three other towns across the state, a half-dozen wardens knocked on doors as part of the operation.

“We’re prepared for them if they come out wanting a fight,” Warden Chris Simmons told the television crew in the back of his vehicle as they sped through the night on Feb. 5, 2014. “We’re ready for anything.” They had all been briefed at a staging area that this would be, as the television team would recount, “a high-stakes and possibly dangerous operation.”

But the wardens, who were raiding the town after a two-year undercover investigation, met no resistance during the takedown, which was code-named “Operation Red Meat.”

They ultimately arrested two people, charging them and 21 others with a total of 300 offenses as they swept up what an undercover agent’s supervisor would call “some of the more intentional, serious fish and game violators in the Allagash region.”

Simmons, in remarks carefully vetted by his Maine Warden Service superiors before broadcast, told the camera crews he was happy they had ended the “killing spree.”

Carter McBreairty sits at a friend's computer and listens to his initial court hearing on allegations of fish and wildlife offenses. Carter, who had no previous convictions, was later found guilty of charges that included taking too many trout, having his girlfriend tag a deer he'd shot, and hunting while drinking. He has appealed the convictions to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. With him are his son, Jared McBreairty, left, and his cousin, Jess McBreairty.

THE COUSINS: Carter McBreairty sits at a friend’s computer and listens to his initial court hearing on allegations of fish and wildlife offenses. Carter, who had no previous convictions, was later found guilty of charges that included taking too many trout, having his girlfriend tag a deer he’d shot, and hunting while drinking. He has appealed the convictions to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. With him are his son, Jared McBreairty, left, and his cousin, Jess McBreairty.

In reality, the operation had surprisingly scant results. Its main target, a convicted poacher named Jess McBreairty, eventually, and reluctantly, pleaded guilty to charges related to a plate of undocumented venison and onions he cooked for the covert agent, the improper tagging of a deer possessed by his estranged girlfriend, and the shooting of a single grouse. Carter McBreairty, Jess’s first cousin once-removed, was convicted of minor offenses, including taking too many trout, having his girlfriend tag a deer he’d shot, and hunting while drinking.

The undercover agent persuaded a third man, an impressionable 36-year-old, to repeatedly go night poaching with him, providing the man with the gun, ammunition, vehicle and spotlight, and even shooting the first deer himself. Others pleaded guilty to a host of minor charges ranging from having a loaded gun in a vehicle to marijuana possession. Many of them said they didn’t commit the offenses but they couldn’t afford to fight the charges in court.

The undercover operation, raid and their aftermath have disturbed and angered townspeople and raised concerns about how the warden service conducts these operations, during which its operatives are allowed to break the very wildlife laws they enforce.

Law enforcement experts and local civic leaders say the undercover operation and takedown raid appear to be out of proportion to the alleged crimes. And many of those charged are accusing the covert agent of misconduct.

A six-month investigation by the Maine Sunday Telegram uncovered troubling behavior by and serious allegations against the warden service, including entrapment, padding evidence and providing alcohol to suspects to entice them to commit crimes.

It’s not the first time the service has been accused of overzealous enforcement. The agency has been trying to overcome a reputation for abusing its powers for almost 20 years.

But in this latest incident, the wardens went so far as to unlawfully seize a stock of canned peaches and vegetables from a 64-year-old woman whom they tried to prosecute for processing illegal game. Despite the intervention of lawyers and a state legislator, the woman says they failed to return most of her canned food. After dropping all charges against her, wardens contacted her seasonal employer of 13 years, which resulted in her not being rehired.

“The disappointment is that we have frequently addressed these issues and there’s no real evidence that they are operating differently,” says George Smith, who pressured the warden service to reform itself in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when he was head of the Sportsmen’s Alliance of Maine. “It’s probably the kind of organization that’s impossible to change.”

The newspaper interviewed 35 people – including town residents, attorneys, legislators, convicted poachers and criminal justice experts – and reviewed more than 1,000 pages of court documents and emails; official reports of the covert investigator, his supervisors, and the wardens and police officers who carried out the raid; and the recorded phone conversations and interviews involving the investigator and his targets released as evidence for court proceedings.

Several of the targeted people accuse the undercover agent of trumping up charges in Allagash by padding evidence, and say he gave people alcohol – a violation of past warden service policies on covert operations. (The department refused to provide an updated version of these policies, declaring them to be a secret.) The agent’s own reports say he gave a target a firearm and ammunition – and that he even killed a deer in the target’s presence – in an effort to entice him to poach. Wardens also twice sought prosecution for trespassing offenses even when property owners said no violations had taken place.

“The way in which some people were treated was heavy-handed, and that’s what got me really upset,” says Rep. John Martin, who has represented Allagash and other parts of Aroostook County in the state Legislature for most of the past half-century. “I’d be shocked to learn, and somebody should find out, how much money was spent in that operation. Frankly, if we spent it looking at people involved in major crimes, it would be much more productive.”

Town matriarch Faye O'Leary Hafford, 91, says there was no need for the SWAT-style raid on Allagash in February 2014. "That scared a lot of people, one car after another coming up the road," she says. "I wasn't upset that they were doing their job. What bothered me is the way they handled it."

THE TOWN MATRIARCH: Faye O’Leary Hafford, 91, says there was no need for the SWAT-style raid on Allagash in February 2014. “That scared a lot of people, one car after another coming up the road,” she says. “I wasn’t upset that they were doing their job. What bothered me is the way they handled it.”

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oseph L. Giacalone, a retired New York Police Department sergeant who teaches at the John Jay College for Criminal Justice in New York, says the wardens’ Allagash operation was wildly out of proportion to the suspected crimes.

“They spent two years, and this is what they find? It sounds like a whole lot of nonsense,” says Giacalone, who once headed the Bronx’s cold case unit. “This should not be an operation that law enforcement would be involved in for this long unless you had people smuggling drugs or sex workers across the border.”

Giacalone also wondered whether the presence of cameras from “North Woods Law,” an Animal Planet reality show that focuses on Maine wardens, played a role in the large raid. “Many police departments don’t want to get involved with reality TV crews because they don’t want the cops thinking they may be movie stars and to play it up on tape, because that can come back to haunt you,” he says.

But another John Jay College faculty member says outsiders shouldn’t second-guess the actions of undercover investigators. He speculated that the wardens might have suspected the presence of an international game-smuggling syndicate.

“They didn’t get the intended targets with any felonies, which leads me to think the operation didn’t give them as much fruit as they wanted to,” says Jon Shane, a retired police captain in Newark, New Jersey. “I don’t fault law enforcement for doing what they did, but it sounds like a very weak case.”

Getting the warden service’s side of the story hasn’t been easy.

Colonel Joel Wilkinson of the Maine Warden Service.

THE COMMANDER: Colonel Joel Wilkinson of the Maine Warden Service. 2009 Press Herald File Photo/John Patriquin

The service and its leader, Col. Joel Wilkinson, refused interview requests, initially saying they would answer questions submitted in writing. Shortly after receiving the newspaper’s questions, however, their spokesman invited a reporter to a meeting with a senior officer, Lt. Dan Scott, at the warden service’s Augusta headquarters. But the meeting was abruptly canceled hours later without explanation.

“All future conversations between you and Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife staff will need to be in writing,” spokesman Cpl. John MacDonald said by email.

All of the paper’s subsequent contact with the department was routed through its legal counsel, Assistant Attorney General Mark Randlett. Days later, Randlett forwarded a written note from the department that read: “We will not be providing further comment in regard to your line of questions and feel we have made good faith efforts to provide you a timely and reasonable response.” Many questions previously posed were left unaddressed.

Inland Fisheries & Wildlife Commissioner Chandler Woodcock also declined to speak with the Telegram, and the warden service refused to share the agency’s written policies governing the conduct of undercover investigators or to reveal the cost of the Allagash investigation and raid.

Chace Jackson, an Allagash native whose father, Troy, represented the area in the state Senate, says much of the community is still scarred and angered by the raid.

“These are people’s grandmothers and people who aren’t bothering anyone, and you come up here with all these vehicles and guys dressed up like a small army, like you’re going to meet armed resistance or something,” he says. “Do they think all Allagash people are poachers and outlaws? It’s an attack against all of us and our decency.”

A pickup truck's headlights shine through the trees as it travels along Route 161 next to the St. John River in Allagash. This part of the state doesn't have much of a "rush hour" – in the span of 20 minutes around 5 p.m., just two cars traveled down the section of road. A pickup truck's headlights shine through the trees as it travels along Route 161 next to the St. John River in Allagash. This part of the state doesn't have much of a "rush hour" – in the span of 20 minutes around 5 p.m., just two cars traveled down the section of road.

THE TOWN: A pickup truck’s headlights shine through the trees as it travels along Route 161 next to the St. John River in Allagash. This part of the state doesn’t have much of a “rush hour” – in the span of 20 minutes around 5 p.m., just two cars traveled down the section of road. Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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llagash is literally at the end of the road, a dispersed collection of homes, hunting lodges and small businesses that congeals into a hamlet near where its namesake river meets the St. John River. It’s 12 miles back down Route 161 to the nearest village and a half-hour’s drive to Fort Kent, the last place with supermarkets and cellphone coverage.

In all other directions, Allagash is surrounded by industrial forests that stretch to the borders of Quebec, New Brunswick, and Baxter State Park, 60 miles south. Cultural factors further the isolation: Almost everyone here is related and descended from the original Scots-Irish settlers, whereas the rest of the Upper Saint John Valley is French Acadian.

Its 228 residents live on an island of sorts, their access to the sea of forest mediated by gatehouses collectively operated by New Brunswick’s Irving conglomerate and the other large landowners. Passage beyond the gates requires a fee and a nod that you accept their rules.

The economy orbits around forestry – although mechanization has decimated labor needs – and guiding and supporting those who come from away to hunt, fish or paddle. There isn’t enough money to go around, and over the past 60 years the town’s population has declined by two-thirds, the elementary and high schools have closed, and the average age has risen steadily.

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 8.56.03 AMFor fun, people pay the gate fees and travel through the vast expanse of forest, where they can drive for hours without seeing another person or vehicle. There’s often a cooler of beer in the back that’s empty by the time they return to civilization.

“You know you’re not supposed to be out on the woods roads with a couple of 12-packs, but it’s also something so common it doesn’t feel wrong, like driving 8 miles over the speed limit on the highway,” Jackson says. “It may not be legally defensible, but I can only say that it’s so common as to make it almost feel mean that someone would ride along just to make that into something to bring charges against you. It’s like a hit against our way of life.”

It’s also an unusually trusting place, where people are startlingly open, relaxed and without guile, and strangers are invited to stay in people’s houses – or drink beer or smoke dope on a backwoods road – without a second thought. The warmth captivates visitors, many of whom come back year after year as much on account of the people as the trout, grouse or deer.

“That’s what makes it so easy for an event like this to take place,” says Rep. Martin. “They’re an open book. They don’t hide things. It’s just not their nature.”

Jess McBreairty, the subject of an undercover sting by Maine Game Wardens, smokes a hand rolled cigarette as he wakes up in his trailer in Allagash Sunday, February 14, 2016. McBreairty lives in poverty, eating many meals at friends' homes just to get by. This was photographed with black and white film on a Rolleiflex camera.

THE ACCUSED: Jess McBreairty, the subject of an undercover sting by Maine Game Wardens, smokes a hand rolled cigarette as he wakes up in his trailer in Allagash. McBreairty lives in poverty, eating many meals at friends’ homes just to get by. He was photographed with black and white film on a Rolleiflex camera. View more of Gabe Souza’s black and white photography for this project. Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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he warden service, the law enforcement branch of the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, has 125 officers scattered across the state. Although its primary focus is enforcing fish and wildlife laws, wardens are often the only law enforcement presence in the remote towns and vast unorganized territories where they operate. They perform search-and-rescue operations, act as traffic cops on snowmobile and ATV trails, and investigate hunting-related shootings.

Wardens submit 1,760 charges for prosecution in a typical year, the vast majority for hunting offenses or vehicle registration and license infractions, although about 2 percent are felonies. They also maintain a dedicated undercover unit that embeds agents in hunting or fishing circles suspected of game law violations, which are misdemeanors.

In May 2012, the Fort Kent-based warden responsible for Allagash, Sgt. Jeff Spencer, forwarded his request for an undercover investigation to headquarters. His target was 39-year-old Jess McBreairty, a colorful rogue whose vintage trailer home on the banks of the St. John had electricity but was otherwise off the grid: outhouse, wood heat and no running water.

In 2008, McBreairty was convicted of cultivating marijuana and of poaching a moose with another man, Reid Caron; both men said they had done so because they were in dire straits and needed the food. McBreairty had lost his driver’s license, so the only way he could get the 4 miles to the center of the hamlet was by driving his four-wheeler on the back trails and briefly crossing the Dickey Bridge over the river. He sometimes walked a mile to the home of his first cousin once-removed, Carter McBreairty, to shower, socialize or hitch a ride.

An excerpt from the request for an undercover investigation:

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Spencer’s request for an investigation did not include concerns about a major smuggling operation or other organized crime. Instead, the warden said he had “received information in the past that Jess and Carter have killed moose during closed season and also that Carter takes large limits of brook trout.” He said he’d been told that Jess “often leaves his residence late at night” and “uses his canoe to fish and plants marijuana where we won’t find it.” Carter, he wrote, “has been caught before and is also a heavy drinker.” Jess had boasted to him of past poaching, the warden said.

Headquarters approved Spencer’s request and assigned a veteran covert operative to infiltrate Jess and Carter’s social circle. Over the next two years, the operative, Bill Livezey, would travel to Allagash nine times, partying late with locals at the Moose Shack bar in St. Francis or at Carter’s house, where he was welcomed as a guest for days on end, even when the 56-year-old construction worker was out of town. In total, Livezey would spend 40 days in Allagash, posing as Pennsylvania hunter Bill Fried and – according to his own reports – doing his best to tempt locals into violating fish, game and other laws.

Carter McBreairty, left, and his first cousin once-removed, Jess McBreairty, were among the primary targets of a two-year warden service investigation of fish and game violations in the area, and both were convicted of minor offenses. Law enforcement experts and local civic leaders say the undercover operation and takedown raid appeared to be out of proportion with the suspected crimes.

THE PRIMARY TARGETS: Carter McBreairty, left, and his first cousin once-removed, Jess McBreairty, were among the primary targets of a two-year warden service investigation of fish and game violations in the area, and both were convicted of minor offenses. Law enforcement experts and local civic leaders say the undercover operation and takedown raid appeared to be out of proportion with the suspected crimes.

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n June 2012, Livezey, pretending to be Fried, drove into Allagash, looking to catch Jess and Carter committing serious wildlife crimes. It was the first of nine trips over nearly two years. During those visits, Livezey heard a lot of talk about poaching, but he never caught either man actually doing it.

Jess was suspicious of the agent, who was frustrated to discover that his primary target was keeping his nose clean, even as he allegedly boasted of past poaching exploits. Townspeople told Livezey that Jess had turned over a new leaf under the influence of a new girlfriend. Later in the investigation, Jess stopped drinking and smoking marijuana in accordance with bail terms set in connection with a criminal threatening charge leveled against him by an ex-girlfriend and her father. Jess was proving difficult to ensnare.

Livezey’s covert operative reports and telephone recordings show he tried to get Jess to shoot and sell him a buck, to lay bait for deer and to hunt at night – all violations of Maine hunting rules. Jess declined.

“The impression I got of this Bill feller was that he was very gung-ho,” Jess recalls. “When he left that first weekend, he was bound and determined that I was going to shoot him a buck, and I made up my mind right there that I was going to have as little to do with the (expletive) as I could.”

A phone call between Bill Livezey and Jess McBreairty.

Livezey did not respond to requests for an interview sent both by e-mail and to his home via U.S. mail. The warden service said he would not answer any questions.

Jess did agree to show Livezey where to hunt. During the drive, the agent claims, Jess shot a grouse with a .22 revolver, later resulting in four charges, including firing from a moving vehicle and hunting without a license. “Never happened,” Jess says, noting he never owned such a gun. “He just made it up.” (The warden service said such accusations “are completely inaccurate and untrue” – a phrase it repeatedly used in its written responses to questions – but declined to elaborate.) At one point, Jess made Livezey a meal of onions and venison, for which he would later be charged with possession of undocumented meat. He also would be charged with a tagging violation involving a deer registered by his estranged girlfriend, the one who had accused him of threatening.

When they finally raided Allagash, the wardens didn’t obtain a search warrant for Jess’s home; he was arrested instead for drinking beer, a violation of his bail terms in the criminal threatening case. (Jess and his sister, Polly Hafford, say their attorney, Toby Jandreau, had wrongly told them the bail terms had been lifted a few days earlier. Jandreau declined to comment.)

Jess initially fought the warden’s charges, but after spending 50 days in jail he agreed to plead guilty and accept a punishment of time served and $3,760 in fines.

“When it come right down to it, it was either make a deal and go home, or be contrary and go back to jail for another two or three weeks or a month,” he says.

Carter McBreairty looks out the window from the backseat of his Suburban as he goes for a ride in the woods and has a cold beer.

THE HUNTER: Carter McBreairty looks out the window from the backseat of his Suburban as he goes for a ride in the woods and has a cold beer.

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arter, whom many residents described as generous to a fault, was more trusting. Livezey finally encountered him at the Moose Shack on his fourth trip to the area. By the end of that weekend he was a house guest.

Carter shot a deer while they hunted together behind the house, and Carter’s live-in girlfriend attached her tag to it, improperly claiming it as her own, which allowed Carter to hunt and kill another deer later that season. On this and other occasions, Carter drank beer while taking Livezey on drives in the industrial forest, and on one afternoon the investigator claimed he became extremely intoxicated.

“There are no malls here, no nightclubs, no strip joints – Christ, we’re in the Allagash,” Carter explained to a reporter as he drove the same roads two years later. “I’m having a beer in the Maine woods. There’s no ball or kids coming in the road here! Who cares!”

Undercover game warden Bill Livezey poses with 24 trout that became the basis of a wildlife violation charge against Allagash resident Carter McBreairty. Livezey claimed Carter had caught 11 of the trout, more than the daily legal limit, but McBreairty says the agent had taken 11 fish caught on a previous day out of a freezer and added them to the photo. Livezey later included this photo in his evidence against McBreairty, and the prosecution submitted it during the court case.

THE UNDERCOVER AGENT: Undercover game warden Bill Livezey poses with 24 trout that became the basis of a wildlife violation charge against Allagash resident Carter McBreairty. Livezey claimed Carter had caught 11 of the trout, more than the daily legal limit, but McBreairty says the agent had taken 11 fish caught on a previous day out of a freezer and added them to the photo. The warden service included this photo in their evidence against McBreairty, and the prosecution submitted it during the court case.

The agent would stay at Carter’s house for days on end, even when his host was working in midcoast Maine. During their time together, Livezey alleged that Carter told him to hide in the back of the vehicle as they passed the gates, to avoid paying a day-use fee to North Maine Woods, the coalition of industrial forest owners that manages access to the woods surrounding Allagash; that Carter had loaded firearms in his Chevy Suburban and shot at grouse out the window; that during a trout fishing trip, Carter caught six more fish than the legal limit; and that he trespassed on a cousin’s land, even though the cousin said otherwise. Carter would contest all these charges, appealing them to Maine’s highest court.

The agent took a photograph of Carter with 24 trout, 11 of which he claimed Carter had caught. Carter says that in reality, the agent had taken 11 fish out of the freezer and added them to the photograph. Carter and his other fishing companion, Dana Kelly, gave all the fish to Livezey as a present, court filings say, and he later placed them in evidence in a Bangor freezer.

At trial, Carter’s lawyer enlarged the photo to demonstrate that 11 of the fish “had a distinctive different appearance because those fish had been caught on an earlier day at a different location,” an assertion that Kelly corroborated. Only after the trial did Carter’s defense team learn that wardens still had the fish, which could have been genetically tested.

Asked by the Telegram why they were not, since it would have settled the matter, the warden service would not provide a direct answer, noting that a jury had found Carter guilty. Asked whether Livezey had planted the extra trout, the warden service said the accusation was “completely inaccurate and untrue.” (Prosecutor Jim Mitchell says the state would have given defense lawyers access to the fish if they had asked.)

At trial, the head of North Maine Woods, Albro Cowperthwaite, filed paperwork to discharge the trespassing charges against Carter, whose sisters always bought him an annual pass as a birthday present.

“The warden service was disappointed, because I sent the letter before they showed up on my doorstep,” Cowperthwaite recalls.

Carter was prosecuted anyway. When asked why, the warden service said Cowperthwaite had not been aware that Carter “often had persons hiding in the back of his truck” when he passed their checkpoints.

Carter, who had no previous convictions, was later found guilty of 13 charges, but the trial judge discharged the two trespassing counts. For hunting under the influence, loaded firearms in his vehicle, the trout, and the deer tagging irregularity, he was fined $10,300 and sentenced to 354 days in jail, with all but 30 days suspended. He appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, but his convictions were upheld in an April 21 ruling.

Reid Caron, 36, above, became a target in the warden service investigation after allegedly bragging while he was drunk and stoned that he regularly poached deer and moose to feed himself. An undercover agent posing as a hunter persuaded Caron to go night poaching with him and provided the gun, ammunition and vehicle. Caron later pleaded guilty to 39 charges and spent 90 days in jail, but says, "I wouldn't have been going out and doing this if he hadn't wanted to."

THE ENTICED HUNTER: Reid Caron became a target in the warden service investigation after allegedly bragging while he was drunk and stoned that he regularly poached deer and moose to feed himself. An undercover agent posing as a hunter persuaded Caron to go night poaching with him and provided the gun, ammunition and vehicle. Caron later pleaded guilty to 39 charges and spent 90 days in jail, but says, “I wouldn’t have been going out and doing this if he hadn’t wanted to.”

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fter seven trips and more than a year’s work, Livezey turned his attention to a new target, Reid Caron, who when drunk and stoned had allegedly bragged about regularly poaching deer and moose to feed himself.

On Halloween night in 2013, Livezey showed up at Caron’s dilapidated trailer and hung out while the 36-year-old smoked joints. Four hours later, Caron was drinking beer and blasting away at a deer from the agent’s truck using the agent’s guns, ammo and spotlight. The two repeated this ritual eight more times that fall, Livezey reported.

During these illegal night-hunting expeditions, Livezey was the first to kill a deer, and Caron subsequently shot a deer and a moose, the agent’s reports show.

“I wouldn’t have been going out and doing this if he hadn’t wanted to,” says Caron, who later pleaded guilty to 39 charges. He spent 90 days in jail and owes $27,240 in fines.

Caron’s mother, Hope Kelly, says her son was an easy mark for the agent. “The relationship they developed was that Reid just wanted him to like him as a person,” she says.

Rep. Martin, who wrote a letter requesting leniency to Caron’s sentencing judge, concurs. “Reid is as nice a guy as you can find, always wanting to help people,” he says. “To me, it was entrapment.”

Many of those who encountered Livezey in Allagash say he often drank and provided drinks to others, although the agent claimed in his reports that he poured most of his beers out or nursed his drinks during multiple three- and four-hour visits to the Moose Shack to gather intelligence and infiltrate local social circles.

“He would drink and hand me beers in the vehicle,” says Jared McBreairty, Carter’s son, who says he pleaded guilty to hunting under the influence and illegal possession of a grouse during a backwoods drive with the agent because it would have cost too much to fight the charges, even though he says he did not commit them. “Being law enforcement, you wouldn’t think he could do that,” Jared says.

Caron concurs. “The whole time he was doing this, the guy stayed drunk,” he says of the covert agent. “He later claimed he was dumping beers all day, but that isn’t so. This was a vacation for him, and he was partying hard.”

Jess recalls Livezey arriving at his house with a 12-pack of Yuengling beer and says that the agent drank eight of them.

The warden service says Livezey “was never under the influence” during the investigation, and the only beer he provided was to Jess.

In the past, providing alcohol to third parties violated the warden service’s policies for undercover agents, who also were prohibited from committing non-wildlife-related crimes. These policies are presumably still in effect, but the warden service refused to provide them.

The Telegram filed a public records request for them and received a 16-page document with the main body of the text – 15 pages – almost completely redacted on the grounds that the contents had to remain secret to protect agents, even though a previous version of the document was made public in 2005 with no redactions at all.

According to the unredacted 2005 policy document, undercover wardens must first establish that a target has a “predisposition” to commit wildlife crimes before attempting to entice the target into committing them. Under Maine statute, undercover wardens may also violate fish and wildlife laws, and the 2005 department policy allowed them to drink alcohol in order to fit in with targets they are investigating. Maine’s highest court ruled in a 2006 appeal involving the same investigator, Livezey, that agents can incite people to commit illicit acts as long as they “had a predisposition to commit those crimes.”

Hope Kelly sits in the kitchen where she spent at least two hours as more than a half-dozen Maine game wardens searched her home during a 2014 sting operation. The wardens removed 110 jars of her home-canned fruits and vegetables and 36 jars of moose meat. The meat was never proven to be illegally obtained, but it didn't matter: All Kelly ever got back was 33 pints of the garden goods. "I'm assuming they ate" the rest, she says.

THE SUSPECT’S MOTHER: Hope Kelly sits in the kitchen where she spent at least two hours as more than a half-dozen Maine game wardens searched her home during a 2014 sting operation. The wardens removed 110 jars of her home-canned fruits and vegetables and 36 jars of moose meat. The meat was never proven to be illegally obtained, but it didn’t matter: All Kelly ever got back was 33 pints of the garden goods. “I’m assuming they ate” the rest, she says.

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n the evening of Feb. 5, 2014, Caron and his mother, Hope Kelly, were watching television when eight or 10 men came into her home unannounced. They said they were wardens, but Kelly says at first she didn’t believe them because they wouldn’t show her a search warrant. They took her son away and made her sit at the kitchen table for hours while they tromped up and down the basement stairs, carrying away case after case of her home-canned peaches, beets, corn, and moose and deer meat – the meat, she says, legally harvested by her brothers.

Canned goods were taken by wardens from the home of Hope Kelly.

THE GOODS: An evidence photo of canned goods taken by wardens from the home of Hope Kelly.

“It was all men in here, and I wasn’t sure if they wouldn’t be killing me when they finished robbing my house, because I didn’t think real law enforcement would do this,” recalls Kelly, who worked a seasonal job as a North Maine Woods gatekeeper. “I thought it was a home invasion.”

At that moment, wardens and state troopers were serving warrants all over town. Jess was arrested for drinking beer in violation of bail conditions he says he thought had been lifted. A film crew from “North Woods Law” had been invited along on the raid at the last minute, and the crew was posted outside the house of Caron’s father, where Warden Simmons and his partner found no weapons and an elderly man unable to get up from his couch.

Six wardens swarmed Carter’s house, finding only his girlfriend. Another team searched the home of a different man, a felon who wasn’t allowed to possess the guns Livezey had seen there. Others searched Caron’s trailer or interviewed witnesses. Down in Bath – where Carter worked most weeks, sometimes sleeping in his vehicle at night – Carter was met at a bar by two wardens who interviewed him for two hours in their truck, while five more raided the home of another man in Palermo.

Kelly was famous locally for her canned peaches, made with organic fruit grown in Pennsylvania and purchased from the Amish farmers who have bought up stretches of Aroostook County farmland in recent years. She had spent hours preparing the peaches and the organic fruit from her garden and packing them in clear-glass pint jars, 110 in total, she estimates. There also were 36 jars of moose meat, which was never proven to be illicit and which Kelly maintains was from animals legally shot by her siblings. Most of it was never returned, she says, despite interventions by her attorney and Rep. Martin.

“It’s robbery and thievery, and to do it by force!” she says, noting that only 33 pints were returned to her. “I’m assuming they ate it all, because otherwise they would have brought it back by now.”

To her surprise, Kelly – who had never laid eyes on Livezey – was charged with four counts related to possession of poached meat. Unlike most of those charged, she pleaded not guilty. The night before the trial, the district attorney dropped all charges against her.

“They didn’t have a case,” says her attorney, Ted Smith of Van Buren. “You had a person in there for months, and you have nothing at all.”

Assistant District Attorney Jim Mitchell disagrees, saying he dropped the charges because Kelly’s son had “stepped up and accepted responsibility” for his poaching activities. “It had nothing to do with the strength of the case,” he says. “I was more interested in getting the person who did the poaching.”

Either way, Kelly would pay. Three weeks later, she says, her boss, Albro Cowperthwaite of North Maine Woods, called to say he had a lengthy conversation with the warden service and decided not to ask her back to work for the coming season, which would have been her 14th. Beyond that, she says he declined to give a reason.

Reached at his office in Ashland, Cowperthwaite confirmed Kelly’s account, but declined to comment further.

“I think that’s an involvement by the warden service that is a violation of the due process of law,” attorney Smith says. “There was a little payback by the game wardens.”

Asked why they would do such a thing, the warden’s service issued a blanket denial. “Maine Warden Service personnel did not request that North Maine Woods not rehire any employee,” the service wrote in an email.

The warden service also says Kelly’s “vegetables” – 33 jars – were returned “within two days after this was brought to the attention” of the agency. The meat, prosecutor Mitchell says, was confiscated as contraband even though it was never proven to be illicit, in accordance with the usual procedure in such circumstances. The wardens refused to answer further questions about the 77 pints of fruit and vegetables that Kelly says were never returned.

Carter McBreairty, center, listens to the conversation of friends and family around the dinner table of his home in Allagash, an Aroostook County town consisting of a dispersed collection of homes, hunting lodges and small businesses. Allagash is surrounded by industrial forests that stretch to the borders of Quebec, Canada, and Baxter State Park, 60 miles south.

THE GATHERING PLACE: Carter McBreairty, center, listens to the conversation of friends and family around the dinner table of his home in Allagash, an Aroostook County town consisting of a dispersed collection of homes, hunting lodges and small businesses. Allagash is surrounded by industrial forests that stretch to the borders of Quebec, Canada, and Baxter State Park, 60 miles south.

T

o this day, many Allagash residents bristle at the way the wardens conducted their investigation and raid. Why, they ask, would a law enforcement agency spend thousands of hours and so many taxpayer dollars to pursue two men suspected, at the most, of garden-variety poaching? Why the focus on enticing someone to go out at night and commit crimes rather than catching people breaking the law of their own volition? Why the paramilitary-style raid, played out before television cameras?

Many residents believe the theatrical scale of the raid and the presence of cameras are related. “You had a SWAT team here with dozens of vehicles and search lights; it was unbelievable,” says local writer and poet Darrell McBreairty, Carter’s brother. “The thing that’s disturbing for people in the community is that it seemed it was a production for the television program.”

The warden service says such accusations were “completely inaccurate and untrue,” and refused to answer further questions.

A producer of “North Woods Law” says he doesn’t believe the cameras had any effect on the operation.

“I can assure you having been there myself that that wasn’t the case,” says Andy Seestedt, co-executive producer at Engel Entertainment, who was in Allagash as a field producer the night of the raid. “If they are trying to depict it as being all done for our behalf, that’s wholly inaccurate.”

The damage to the community has been lasting.

“What it’s really doing is putting a black mark on the town I grew up in and love so much,” says Jared McBreairty. “People had an open door – now they’re afraid of everyone else. … It feels like a conspiracy.”

Town matriarch Faye O’Leary Hafford, 91, for whom the village’s library is named, says the raid was unnecessary in this quiet town.

“That scared a lot of people, one car after another coming up the road,” she says. “I wasn’t upset that they were doing their job. What bothered me is the way they handled it.”

Asked to respond, the warden service said only that the scale was required for “operational logistics and officer safety.”

Allagash resident Marilyn McBreairty – a distant relative of Jess and Carter – notes that with border patrol, sheriffs and wardens coming and going on a daily basis, there’s no absence of law enforcement in her town.

“They made it sound like we live on a different planet, like we in Allagash – everyone in Allagash – lives by a separate set of rules,” she says at her kitchen counter, her voice rising with exasperation. “We’re not a bunch of outlaws.”

The SWAT-style raid has changed people’s attitude toward outsiders, says Darrell McBreairty.

“Someone comes to town now and people say, ‘Get out of here. We don’t know who you are,’ ” he says. “These people are so gregarious and full of love of life and craziness – it’s too bad this way of life is being destroyed by a frivolous operation.”

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 1:53 p.m. on May 27, 2016 to correct Troy Jackson status with the state Senate.