LEXINGTON — The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has confirmed that Sausage Haus in Lexington has been under investigation since the fall of 2018.
“The Minnesota DNR Enforcement Division is in the midst of an investigation related to the sale and purchase of wild venison,” said Lt. Col Greg Salo of DNR Enforcement. “It is illegal in Minnesota to buy or sell protected wild animals, including white-tailed deer, and we work hard to prevent that type of commercialization of the resources that belong to all of us. Simply put, we take seriously our responsibility for protecting Minnesota’s natural resources.”
The investigation began in 2018 after the DNR received complaints that the establishment was selling wild venison. As part of the investigation, the DNR obtained a couple of search warrants and interviewed more than 400 people who either dropped a deer off or purchased venison from Sausage Haus.
“We filtered through those and scraped the cream off the top on things that didn’t quite add up that we felt needed follow-up interviews,” Salo explained. “Most of them had very reasonable explanations.”
Salo provided an example. Customer John Smith dropped off a deer to be processed at Sausage Haus and then the DNR checked its records and John Smith had not purchased a license that year or registered a deer. After investigating further, the DNR discovered that John Smith’s son or daughter shot the deer with a license, and John Smith brought it in for processing.
“There was also a good handful of game/fish violations cases that were made off of those invoices as well,” Salo said.
The main concerns are that customers who had never brought a deer to Sausage Haus for processing were able to purchase venison, and that customers who brought in a deer left with more than their deer could yield. “You are always going to get more than drop-off when you get sticks or sausage made. It is roughly 50/50, venison mixed with pork or beef,” Salo explained. “But when you drop 10 pounds of venison off and you get 300 pounds back, the math doesn’t add up, they are getting extra venison from somewhere. Multiple people did that over a long period of time.”
John Price, an attorney representing Sausage Haus’ owner Matt Sand, said he and his client had no comment and would rely on the comments they already provided to another media outlet.
Doing a thorough investigation into these allegations is a big deal, according to Salo. “We are trying to nip the commercialization of wild game. People should not be making a profit off of it; it can decimate a population,” he said. “We have never allowed the sale of deer meat. It has been outlawed for decades for that sole reason. Once you start attaching a dollar sign, if you can make money off of it, it makes it very hard to manage that population to make sure it’s there for generations. People do crazy things for money ... So to protect the resource, there is absolutely no commercialization of any game species (allowed).”
Salo said the investigation is “coming to a close” and within the next month or so, the DNR will have its documentation sent over to the Anoka County Attorney’s Office for formal charges. Any sale of wild game meat over $300 is a gross misdemeanor, which can carry a penalty of up to a year in jail and up to a $10,000 fine. Salo confirmed that the Sausage Haus investigation falls within that range.
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