MADISON, Wis. — Prosecutors have charged three Fond du Lac County residents in a sweeping investigation into illegal bartering for sturgeon caviar around Lake Winnebago.
Online court records show 51-year-old Shawn Wendt of Oakfield was charged Feb. 5 with two misdemeanor counts of unlawfully selling or bartering eggs. He could face up to a year in jail and $4,000 in fines if convicted. The records didn’t list an attorney for Wendt and he didn’t immediately return a message left at Wendt’s on the Lake, the restaurant in Van Dyne where he tends bar.
According to the criminal complaint, a state Department of Natural Resources warden interviewed Wendt at the restaurant in January 2020 as part of an investigation into sturgeon caviar processing. State and federal law prohibits selling, trading or bartering sturgeon caviar.
Wendt told the warden that he has been processing sturgeon eggs into caviar for 15 years. He said people would bring him eggs, he would process them into caviar and then keep some for himself to serve at the restaurant. He denied paying for the eggs or making pre-arrangements on how much caviar he would keep as compensation.
Eighty-six-year-old Mary and 88-year-old Victor Schneider of the city of Fond du Lac were each charged Thursday with being parties to misdemeanor bartering of eggs. According to court documents, they told wardens in January 2020 that sturgeon anglers would bring in eggs for caviar processing and the couple would keep half of the caviar as compensation. Online court records did not list an attorney for either of them.
According to the court documents, they told investigators that former DNR Chief Warden Todd Schaller used to stop by their house to pick up caviar. Schaller retired from the DNR in January 2020. Department spokeswoman Sarah Hoye declined comment, saying the agency doesn’t comment on ongoing investigations.
Prosecutors charged the DNR’s top sturgeon expert, Ryan Koenigs, on Thursday with obstructing the investigation.
He told investigators this month that DNR workers have been funneling eggs that spearers turned over for research to caviar processors in exchange for jars of the delicacy for personal use. He initially denied any knowledge of DNR staff involvement in January 2020, according to court documents.