The Maine Warden Service is disputing the findings of a Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram investigation of an undercover operation and raid in the northern Maine town of Allagash in 2014.

In a lengthy media release Wednesday, the service said the story, written by Colin Woodard and published under the headline “North Woods Lawless,” contained “many inaccuracies” in its account of an undercover warden’s activities and a dramatic raid that was filmed for the “North Woods Law” television series.

The newspaper’s six-month investigation detailed allegations that game wardens padded evidence, provided alcohol to people who were being investigated and invented events that did not occur during the two-year investigation, which resulted in fines for wildlife law and other violations and short jail terms for several individuals. An undercover agent provided guns, ammunition, transportation and a searchlight to one target of the probe, and shot a deer to encourage the subject to poach, the story found.

In its media release, the warden service defended the operation as a response to numerous violations of game laws by several Allagash residents who challenged the authority of law enforcement officials.

“The seriousness of the violations, coupled with the defendants’ criminal history and continued intent to violate, resulted in the investigation being authorized,” the warden service said.

The warden service rejected assertions in the story that it had not complied with its obligations under the Freedom of Access Act, saying it had produced 232 documents in response to the reporter’s requests for information.


The newspaper did receive some of the materials it sought. However, the warden service still has not released a number of documents, including email exchanges between 11 wardens and the producers of “North Woods Law,” an estimate of the cost of the investigation and raid, and an uncensored copy of the agency’s policies for undercover agents. A copy of the policy produced for the newspaper was 16 pages long, of which 15 pages were almost entirely blacked out.

The 232 documents the warden service says it produced may be a reference to records released to the Press Herald’s sister newspaper in connection with a separate August 2014 public records request. Those were not the documents that the Press Herald/Telegram requested.

The reporter sought interviews with top officers in the warden service during the course of his investigation, but the service refused to participate and demanded that all questions of agency staff be submitted in writing. The written questions were routed through an assistant attorney general, who told the reporter that the agency had decided it would not be answering any additional questions.

The warden service asked the newspaper Wednesday to publish its entire 2,800-word media release. The Press Herald’s editorial page editor responded by asking the agency to submit a condensed version to accommodate space limitations in the newspaper’s print editions and offered to publish the entire statement online. The warden service did not respond to that request. Instead, it published the entire response on its website and on Facebook.

An hour later, Gov. Paul LePage issued a media release criticizing the newspaper for not agreeing to publish the entire 2,800-word response from the warden service.

As part of its response, the warden service also disputed some of the statements by Hope Kelly, 64, of Allagash, whom agents tried to prosecute for possessing illegal game. The charges were dropped, but the woman said wardens seized multiple jars of canned vegetables and peaches from her home during the raid and failed to return most of them.


The warden service said the jars of canned vegetables were seized “inadvertently, a mistake that wardens made.” The service said agents later returned the jars, and the woman signed for them.

“At no point did the warden service seize peaches,” the agency said.

Kelly disputed that claim, saying the wardens took 110 jars of vegetables and peaches, and later returned 33 jars of vegetables. An evidence photo taken by the wardens and included in the newspaper’s story clearly shows a jar of peaches.

The service noted that 17 people were convicted of violating state game laws in the operation and were fined more than $39,000, with several sentenced to jail terms as a result of the investigation.

“This has been an investigative unit that exemplifies our very best work,” the service said.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.