A month after pleading not guilty to federal charges for hog-tying three endangered Key deer in the Lower Keys, a mainland South Florida man will change his plea on Sept. 11.
Miami Gardens resident Erik Damas Acosta, 18, is one of two men arrested July 2 on Little Torch Key after a Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputy pulled him over for a traffic violation and reportedly found three deer in his four-door Hyundai Sonata. In the passenger seat was Tumani Anthony Younge, 23, of Tamarac in Broward County.
There were reportedly two endangered Key deer in the back seat and one in the trunk, a buck which had to be euthanized days later due to a broken leg. There are only about 875 deer in the herd, they grow to about the size of a large dog and are found only in the Lower Keys.
During arraignment, both Damas Acosta and Younge pleaded not guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Lurana Snow in U.S. District Court in Key West.
Damas Acosta’s arraignment was Aug. 11, while Younge’s was Aug. 25.
Now, Damas Acosta’s attorney Joe Nascimento said his client’s plea will change on Sept. 11 because it is “the next step, in a broad sense.”
It was originally reported that Damas Acosta, through Nascimento, requested a grand jury investigate the case.
“That is not true. At the onset of the federal investigation, I personally contacted Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald and told him that he did not have to convene a grand jury and that we would waive the requirement for an indictment, and agree to the filing of an information,” Nascimento said.
U.S. District Court Judge Jose Martinez will handle the sentencing, Nascimento said, which will most likely happen within 90 days of the Sept. 11 change of plea.
“We had to get a plea agreement together and schedule it with the Magistrate’s Office,” he said. “So, we have to give them time to make those decisions. At the sentencing hearing we will make arguments for what we think is fair and we’ll find out on Sept. 11 when that sentencing is.”
The U.S. Attorney's Office will not comment on ongoing investigations.
A pretrial conference for charges previously filed by the state also happened Friday in Key West.
“We filed a motion to continue that,” Nascimento said. “What’s happening in the state case is we’re looking to resolve the federal case first.”
Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219