HENDERSON — A prominent local fishing and hunting guide faces up to five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine after admitting Wednesday in federal court — for a second time — that he led paying hunters on illegal waterfowl hunts over baited ponds.
William Saiff III, 57, who hosted a hunting and shooting sports program called “Cabin Country,” which aired on public television stations nationwide, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court, Syracuse, to a felony violation of the Lacey Act, admitting that he violated the act by charging a total of more than $350 for hunts in which he knew the wild ducks killed by hunters were taken over bait in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Mr. Saiff also admitted violating federal probation by committing the new crime. He had been convicted in federal court in May 2017 for similar acts involving illegal guided hunts over baited areas, also in violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. He was sentenced to probation for that offense.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, in his plea Wednesday, Mr. Saiff, owner and operator of Seaway Waterfowl Professionals LLC, further admitted that in 2018 — while under probation supervision for the previous conviction — he repeatedly baited ponds in Jefferson County and sent hunting guides and paying clients to hunt wild ducks over those ponds.
According to court documents, Mr. Saiff’s guide business led hunters from Pennsylvania on a hunt in October 2018 on baited property he owns near Sherwin’s Bay and then took a group of hunters from Maine to the same location in November 2018, as well as another group from Pennsylvania a few days later. Federal agents had observed “copious” amounts of grain and fresh corn at the sites and Mr. Saiff was captured on trail cameras operating an all-terrain vehicle in the area, documents state.
On another occasion in October 2018, according to documents, two of Mr. Saiff’s guides were leading a hunt on state land in the town of Rodman, but canceled the hunt and left with the hunters after observing that the area had been baited prior to their arrival.
On Nov. 13, 2018, Mr. Saiff went to the Henderson location on an ATV and appeared to pour grain or feed from a bag into the pond. According to court documents, a few minutes later he “spotted the trail camera and looked directly at it before leaving the area.”
Agents subsequently interviewed Mr. Saiff, who admitted that he was the one who spread bait and that he was the one who determined when and where guides would take paying clients to hunt waterfowl. Mr. Saiff, who according to court documents did not know his conversation was being recorded, “complained at length about the necessity for his “feeding” program because of the diminution of the “resource” of waterfowl in the area.” He also acknowledged that there is a “marked reduction” in the volume of birds that visit a site as feed disappears.
Mr. Saiff is due to be sentenced on his latest plea Oct. 7 by Senior U.S. District Judge Norman A. Mordue, who is presiding over the criminal case. He also faces separate charges for violating terms of his probation. That case is pending before U.S. Magistrate Judge Therese Wiley Dancks.
The guilty plea cancels a trial that was scheduled to start Monday in the matter.