Mill Owner Sentenced to Prison for Purchases and Sales of Stolen Figured Maple from National Forest
Made more than $800,000 Buying and Selling “Music Wood”
A Winlock, Washington wood buyer was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to six months in prison, six months of home detention and three years of supervised release and $159,692 in restitution for violating the Lacey Act by trafficking in big leaf maple illegally cut on national forest land, announced U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. HAROLD CLAUSE KUPERS, 48, owner and operator of a now defunct company, J & L TONEWOODS, admitted to purchasing multiple cuts of wood without requiring the seller to show a valid Specialized Forest Products Permit, as required by law. KUPERS pleaded guilty in November 2015, admitting he suspected the wood had been illegally cut in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. At the sentencing hearing U.S. District Judge Benjamin H. Settle said, “You were a central figure in what made this all [the stolen maple trade] work….You knew you were getting stolen wood, but you hid behind ignorance.”
“As long as unscrupulous mill owners like this defendant create a market for poached wood, our protected forests are at risk,” said U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes. “This defendant was effectively a ‘fence’ for stolen goods. In his case not stolen jewelry or electronics, but stolen publicly owned and irreplaceable natural resources.”
According to records in the case, 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.
Three men who illegally cut the wood previously pleaded guilty to theft of public property or conspiracy to steal public property for illegally harvesting the maple trees in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in November and December 2011 and May 2012. James Miller, 36, of Morton, Washington was sentenced in February 2016 to six months in prison and three years of supervised release. Ryan Justice, 28, of Randle, Washington, was sentenced in December 2015 to 15 months in prison. Kevin Mullins, 56, of Packwood, Washington is scheduled for sentencing June 6, 2016.
The case is being investigated by the U.S. Forest Service. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Seth Wilkinson and Matthew Diggs.