A Winlock, Washington wood buyer and his lumber mill pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to violating the Lacey Act for trafficking in Big Leaf Maple cut on national forest land, announced U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. Wood buyer HAROLD CLAUSE KUPERS, 48, and his company J & L TONEWOODS admitted purchasing multiple cuts of wood without requiring the seller to show a valid Specialized Forest Products Permit. In his plea agreement KUPERS admits he suspected the wood had been illegally cut in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. KUPERS faces up to five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and at least $159,000 in restitution when sentenced by U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle on February 8, 2016.
According to the plea agreement, in April 2012, law enforcement officers with the U.S. Forest Service met with KUPERS and specifically informed him that he was required by Washington law to review Specialized Forest Products Permits for all persons from whom he purchased maple. Despite being put on notice, between April 2012 and March 2014, KUPERS continued to purchase figured maple without requiring the harvesters to display a Specialized Forest Products permit. KUPERS then sold this figured maple to purchasers in interstate commerce for total revenues of $499,414. For example one shipment of maple was sold in May 2012 to PRS Guitars in Maryland for $21,395.
Three men who illegally cut the wood were charged with theft of government property and damaging government property for illegally harvesting the maple trees in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in November and December 2011 and May 2012. Ryan Justice, 28, of Randle, Washington, has pleaded guilty to theft of government property and is scheduled for sentencing on December 7, 2015. James Miller, 36, of Morton, Washington and Kevin Mullins, 56, of Packwood, Washington are scheduled for trial January 12, 2016.
The case is being investigated by the U.S. Forest Service. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Seth Wilkinson.