Broward County

Key deer poaching suspect pleads not guilty in federal court

This is one of the three endangered Key deer the suspects tied up. This one had to be euthanized days later.
This is one of the three endangered Key deer the suspects tied up. This one had to be euthanized days later.

One of two mainland South Florida men accused of hog-tying three endangered Key deer in the Lower Keys last month pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court Friday in Key West.

Erik Damas Acosta, 18, wearing a gray polo shirt and dark gray dress pants, looked nervous prior to his arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lurana.

Wearing a headset and speaking through a translator because he’s a Spanish speaker, Damas Acosta, from Miami Gardens, agreed to a $20,000 personal surety bond and was released to his family after entering his plea to three counts of violating the federal Endangered Species Act for knowingly and unlawfully taking the protected Key deer. There are only about 875 deer in the herd and they are found only in the Lower Keys.

Damas Acosta Miami

Each count carries a maximum penalty of one year in federal prison.

Damas Acosta and Tumani Anthony Younge, 23, of Tamarac in Broward County were arrested July 2 on Little Torch Key after a Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputy pulled them over for a traffic violation and found the deer in Damas Acosta’s four-door Hyundai Sonata, two in the back seat and one in the trunk. One of the endangered Key deer had to be euthanized days later due to a broken leg.

“Mr. Acosta was saddened to learn one of the dear had to be euthanized,” Damas Acosta’s Miami-based attorney Joe Nascimento told the Keynoter. “We look forward to cooperating with the government and resolving this,” Nascimento said.

The case itself is assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez.

Damas Acosta and Younge were federally charged Wednesday in an information charging sheet signed by Acting U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg and Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas A. Watts-FitzGerald from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami.

Tumani Younge Miami

The “information” means federal prosecutors charged them, not a grand jury. Damas Acosta, through Nascimento, requested a grand jury investigate the case.

Younge, who wasn’t at the arraignment because of a scheduling conflict, will be arraigned Aug. 25 at 12:30 p.m. before Snow in District Court in Key West.

A pretrial conference for charges previously filed by the state is also set for Aug. 25. They men pleaded not guilty on July 19 through private attorneys. Both are facing six third-degree felonies each through the state: Three counts for taking the deer and three counts for aggravated animal cruelty.

State third-degree felonies are punishable by five years in prison each though that would be unlikely in this case.

As of Friday afternoon, Oct. 14, 2016, 83 endangered Key deer had been euthanized because of an infestation of the New World screwworm. The screwworm, not seen in the U.S. since the 1960s, is leaving open wounds on the deer and then eating the fle

Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219

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