A Jersey Shore man is charged with killing six federally protected hawks after neighbors reported seeing more than 40 gunshot-wounded birds in the area over three years.
Robert Losasso of Somers Point, N.J., is charged with six counts of violating the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and is expected to appear in federal court in Newark Friday. If convicted, the 68-year-old faces up to six months in prison and a $15,000 fine for each count.
Hawks and other birds of prey typically migrate through New Jersey from Canada each year and are protected under the act, according to the U.S. attorney's office.
One of the hawks killed, a red-shouldered hawk, is an endangered species in New Jersey. Two others, a Cooper's hawk and a sharp-shinned hawk, also have special protections in the state.
Agents with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Law Enforcement Office started investigating Losasso after neighbors living in a four-house radius of the man’s home reported seeing the dead or injured birds of prey between August 2010 and April, according to a court complaint.
Some neighbors also said they could hear gunfire coming from Losasso's house and that there were bullet and pellet marks on their homes.
After agents found two red-tailed hawks with fatal gunshot wounds near Losasso's home in early December, they set up cameras facing the man’s back yard, prosecutors said.
Those cameras caught someone pointing what appeared to be the barrel of a gun out the back door four times between Jan. 23 and April 7, the complaint said. Twice, the camera captured a man matching Losasso's description holding and firing the gun.
Authorities found two slain hawks on the days when the gun barrel was spotted poking out Losasso's back door, according to the complaint.
The other four birds, all killed by gunshot wounds, were found before the cameras were installed.
Agents found a .17-caliber pellet gun and a .22-caliber rifle while executing a search warrant at the man's home June 27, prosecutors said. Losasso said that both of the scope-equipped guns were his, along with ammo for each weapon.
That day, Losasso also reportedly told police he knew it was illegal to kill hawks and other birds of prey. At first, he refused to answer agents who asked if he killed any birds but later said "I ain't shoot any," according to prosecutors.
Ballistic tests later matched the bullets that killed four of the hawks to Losasso's guns, according to the complaint.
Prosecutors said it was not clear whether Losasso had an attorney.