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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Minnesota

Friday, January 13, 2017

Itasca County Christmas Tree Thief Pleads Guilty

Joseph Edminster stole thousands of black spruce tops from the Chippewa National Forest

United States Attorney Andrew M. Luger today announced the guilty plea of JOSEPH LEON EDMINSTER, 70, for stealing thousands of black spruce tree tops from the Chippewa National Forest. EDMINSTER pleaded guilty to one count of theft of government property today before U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina M. Wright in St. Paul, Minn.

According to the defendant’s guilty plea and documents filed in court, between October 2008 and October 2014, JOSEPH EDMINSTER cut and stole more than 2,700 black spruce tree tops from the Chippewa National Forest. EDMINSTER did not have the authority to take the tree tops from federal lands.

After taking the tree tops, EDMINSTER would sell them to wholesalers for use as Christmas decorations. EDMINSTER sold the tops for $1.50 to $2.50 each to various wholesale vendors, who in turn would sell each top for up to $6 each to various retail outlets in Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. The retail cost for individual spruce tops ranges from $2.50 to $7.50 depending on the height.  Spruce tops are most often sold in bundles of five or 10 depending on the height with each bundle retailing from $12.99 to $36.99. Since 2008, EDMINSTER stole at least $24,199.50 worth of spruce tops from federal land.

“We will vigorously pursue those responsible for such acts, dedicating any and all investigative resources needed in order to bring these matters to a just conclusion,” said Darla Lenz, the Chippewa National Forest supervisor. “The public can rest assured that this matter has been resolved and we will continue to protect our national forests.”

Black spruce is a North American pine species. It is widespread across Canada and the northern United States, including the Great Lakes region. Black Spruce is found in northern and northeastern parts of Minnesota, extending as far south as northern Anoka County.

The popularity of black spruce tops and other forest products that are used in the seasonal holiday decorative market has surged over the last 20 years. The spruce tops are sold at landscape retailers and some grocery and home improvement stores nationwide.

The cutting or otherwise damaging any timber, tree or other forest product, to include black spruce is prohibited on National Forest land except as authorized by a special use authorization, timber sale, contract or other federal law or regulation.

This case is the result of an investigation conducted by the U.S. Forest Service’s Law Enforcement and Investigations division.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Laura Provinzino.

Defendant Information:

Grand Rapids, Minn.

• Theft of government property, 1 count

Updated January 13, 2017