Bill Livezey spent much of his youth, and most of his professional career, putting himself in harm’s way.
Growing up in Pennsylvania, bad influences and poor decisions pulled him into a life of alcohol, drugs and crime that took him down a dangerous road.
Through the intervention of a high school teammate and involvement with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Livezey at 17 became a Christian. That put him on the path to a 30-year career with the Maine Warden Service, including 20 years in its special investigations unit pursuing some of the state’s most serious wildlife violators.
At the height of his undercover work, Livezey became the subject of controversial coverage by the Portland Press Herald that called into question his tactics and ethics in investigating and prosecuting a group of notorious poachers from the Allagash.
Livezey confronts publicly for the first time what he describes as the “fake news” written about him in the Press Herald and how it put him at personal risk and tarnished his reputation in his new book, “Let’s Go For a Ride,” set to be released June 1 by Down East Books. The book also addresses the challenges faced by undercover wardens in pursuing criminals who violate fisheries and wildlife laws.
Livezey was accused in the Press Herald account, through testimony from people accused of breaking the law, of getting drunk during investigations. He was outraged about the Press Herald’s characterization in the Allagash poaching case of the department achieving “scant results.” The case documented more than 300 crimes, including 17 people convicted or charged with multiple Class D and E crimes, and one felony.
“Nobody wants their personal character to be trashed,” Livezey said. “When your character gets trashed and it’s on a totally false accusation, that’s when it’s just tormenting.”
The coverage also included publishing a photo of Livezey, which the department argued may have potentially jeopardized his personal safety and his undercover work. The paper and Colin Woodard, the author of the story, steadfastly stood by the accuracy of their reporting.
“That was horrific for my family and myself,” he said. “Up to that point, I had not seen a completely false story where you would state things as fact that never happened.”
As a result of the negative attention focused on the department after the story was published, the Maine Warden Service in June 2016 terminated all undercover investigations out of concern for the safety of its officers and integrity of their investigations.
Livezey credits his trust in God, loyalty of his peers and support of his family and friends to help him persevere during that time.
He and co-author Daren Worcester provide a compelling inside look at Livezey’s life. Worcester is a Maine native who also wrote “Open Season: True Stories of the Maine Warden Service.”
“Typically, undercover guys don’t write books,” the 57-year-old Livezey said recently from his home in Sherman, noting concerns about revealing sensitive information that might potentially compromise wardens or investigations.
He focuses solely on his own cases in the book and omits key details about warden investigative methods. The book also uses fictitious names for the real-life violators.
Livezey was inspired as a kid by TV shows such as “Gentle Ben” and “Flipper.” It led him to dream about a career as a warden.
However, he took a circuitous route to achieving that goal. His father was a drug dealer who found himself in serious trouble with the law and died tragically. Livezey also wound up drinking, taking drugs and even selling drugs.
Suffering from what he believed was panic attacks driven by anxiety, Livezey gave up drugs at 15.
“I knew I was broken. I put on a good facade on the outside because I pretty much was a cheery kind of kid, but I had a lot going on on the inside,” he said.
Positive influences, including his mother and some of his high school football and wrestling coaches, helped him to escape that life, he said. The big breakthrough came when Steve Sellars invited Livezey to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes function.
“I’m sad about all the bad decisions I made as a kid, but I guess I’m not embarrassed about revealing it,” Livezey said, “because I look at it and say the Lord transformed me from the direction I was going.”
He later attended Unity College and applied to the Maine Warden Service three times before he was accepted and went into undercover operations. That job placed him in the presence of the same kind of people he had dealt with as a youngster.
They were often combining alcohol and drugs with significant poaching activities, although some of them just enjoyed killing, Livezey said. His job was to earn their trust, observe and document their criminal behavior, and help bring them to justice.
“That’s the stress of undercover work,” Livezey said. “There’s always that constant fear that your cover is going to be revealed.”
He walked a fine line between pretending to be an illicit hunter from Pennsylvania and protecting his true identity as a warden. Livezey had to pretend to get drunk with suspects and even commit violations of wildlife laws to avoid being found out.
“Even well along in an investigation, they would get to a point where they would realize, ‘we committed a lot of crimes in front of Bill [his undercover identity] here, but he hasn’t committed any,’” Livezey said.
It was a job that took a tremendous physical and emotional toll on Livezey, Maine’s longest-tenured undercover warden, who also was deeply concerned for his wife Gail and their four children.
He retired in 2020 and is now focused on his family. He and Gail are exploring opportunities to serve as house parents at a private school.
“Let’s Go for a Ride” ($26.95) is scheduled to be released in June by Down East Books.