Brothers charged with setting fires on Bayou Sauvage refuge

Published: Aug. 28, 2013 at 9:09 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 4, 2013 at 9:09 PM CDT
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FOX 8 received this news release from the U.S. attorney's office in New Orleans Wednesday afternoon:

RYAN BURLETT, age 34, and DAMIEN BURLETT, age 39, both residents of Orleans Parish, were charged today in a one-count Bill of Information for setting fires on the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge in violation of Title 16, United States Code, Section 688 dd(c), (f)(1), announced United States Attorney Dana Boente.

According to the Bill of Information, on February 9, 2012, a pilot with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture, while on aerial patrol in a Cessna over Slidell, Louisiana, spotted a column of smoke emanating from the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge in New Orleans East. After seeing the smoke column, the pilot flew to the refuge and observed a fire burning on a marsh patch. The pilot also observed two men in a small boat leaving the area of the fire at a high rate of speed. Suspecting that they might have started the fire, the pilot began to follow the boat in an effort to identify them and photograph their activity. As he followed their boat, the pilot witnessed the men start two more fires on marsh patches located within the Refuge. After setting those fires, the men drove their boat to a dock located behind a residence in the Venetian Isles subdivision. The pilot then turned over the photographs of the two men, their boat, and the Venetian Isles residence to agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services for further investigation. Through their investigation, the agents were able to identify RYAN and DAMIEN BURLETT as the two men that set the fires in the Refuge. After confirming their identities, the agents interviewed the BURLETT brothers at New Orleans Fire Department Station 31, where they both worked as firemen. During the interview, they admitted that they were the two individuals in the photographs that the pilot took the day of the incident.

If convicted, each face a maximum term of imprisonment of one year, a fine of $100,000.00, a maximum supervised release term of one year following any term of imprisonment, and a $25 special assessment fee.

U.S. Attorney Dana Boente reiterated that the bill of information is merely a charge, and that the guilt of the defendants must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U. S. Attorney Spiro G. Latsis.