News and Press Releases

Murdered Forest Service Officer was Lead Investigator on Case

September 22, 2008

Three residents of southwest Washington have pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to conspiring to steal and damage thirty-one old growth western cedar trees on the Olympic National Forest near Nielton, Washington. Some of the trees were nearly 600 years old. The three defendants, CRAIG JAMES, 47, of Aberdeen, Washington, BRUCE BROWN, 47, of Humptulips, Washington, and FLOYD STUTESMAN, 48, of Hoquiam, Washington, together with several other individuals, cut the trees over a several week period in early 2006. United States Forest Service officers located the theft site after approximately thirty cords of cedar had been removed and sold to local mills. The defendants provided false documentation indicating the wood had been harvested from private property near Pacific Beach, Washington. A substantial quantity of the wood was considered “music wood,” highly valued by manufacturers of musical instruments and only found in older trees.

The felony conspiracy charge to which all three defendants pleaded guilty carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a $250,000 criminal fine, and up to three years of supervised release. STUTESMAN is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Ronald B. Leighton in Tacoma on November 7, 2008. Defendants JAMES and BROWN are scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Leighton on December 19, 2008.

The lead investigating officer was United States Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Kristine Fairbanks. Officer Fairbanks was shot and killed on September 20, 2008 near Sequim, Washington while conducting patrol duties in the Olympic National Forest.

United States Attorney for the Western District of Washington, Jeffrey C. Sullivan, praised Officer Fairbanks’ efforts and dedication. “The local law enforcement community has lost a true guardian of our treasured natural resources. This successful prosecution was the result of her commitment to ensuring that those resources will be preserved for future generations. Officer Fairbanks was a dedicated public servant who will be greatly missed.”

The United States Forest Service was assisted in this investigation by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Grays Harbor County Sheriff’s Department. The case was prosecuted Assistant United States Attorney Jim Oesterle.

For additional information, and photos associated with the tree theft case, please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110.

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