Naples Hunter Pleads Guilty to Killing Florida Panther
Todd Alan Benfield, 45, of Naples, pled guilty Monday to shooting and killing a Florida panther, in violation of the Endangered Species Act, U.S. Attorney Robert E. O'Neill announced.
Benfield faces a maximum penalty of one year in federal prison, a fine of up to $100,000, and forfeiture of weapons and other equipment used to kill the animal.
The Endangered Species Act makes it a federal Class A misdemeanor to knowingly “take” an endangered species of wildlife.
A subspecies of puma, there are an estimated 100 to 160 panthers in South Florida.
“This investigation demonstrates our dedication and determination to solve these types of serious wildlife crimes, regardless of how long it takes. We hope this helps serve as a deterrent to help support the recovery of the Florida panther,” Andrew Aloise, special agent in charge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, stated in a release.
According to the plea agreement, Benfield killed the panther using a compound bow and a three-blade broadhead-tipped arrow from a tree stand he was using to hunt deer in the Golden Gate Estates area of Collier County. Benfield and an associate moved the panther into Woodland Grade, in an attempt to conceal the animal, the agreement stated.
The next day, Benfield removed the tree stand.
Agencies involved in this investigation included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Fish and Wildlife Forensic Laboratory, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Collier County sheriff's office, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the United States attorney's office.