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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Washington

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Tree Thieves and Mill Owner Indicted for Theft of Big Leaf Maples from National Forest

Men Allegedly Illegally Cut ‘Figured’ Maple for Sale as Valuable Music Wood

Three southwest Washington timber cutters and a Winlock, Washington wood buyer and his lumber mill have been indicted on theft and environmental crimes for cutting Big Leaf Maple trees on national forest land, announced U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes.  Wood buyer HAROLD CLAUSE KUPERS, 48, and his company J & L TONEWOODS are charged with receipt of stolen property and seven violations of the Lacey Act, which prohibits trafficking in “illegal” wildlife, fish, and plants.  The three tree cutters are 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, JAMES MILLER, 36, of Morton, Washington are in custody pending detention hearings.  KEVIN MULLINS, 56, of Packwood, Washington has not yet made his initial appearance on the indictment.

            “The trees in our national forests belong to all Americans and should not be chopped up to enrich a few,” said U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes.  “In this case a beautiful and valued resource that is home to endangered species, was felled with some parts just discarded on the forest floor.  We are prosecuting not only the tree cutters, but also the mill owner who created a market for the sale of this stolen property.”

            According to the indictment, in November and December 2011, the three tree cutters received training and assistance from KUPERS in illegal harvesting of Big Leaf Maples from various sites in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.  The men would seek out “figured maple” which is particularly valuable for musical instruments.  Between October 2011 and March of 2012 the tree cutters made approximately fifty sales of illegally-harvested maple wood to KUPERS and J & L TONEWOODS.  The wood cutters would bring pieces of the trees to J & L TONEWOODS, where it was cut into salable blocks called “billets.”  The indictment alleges KUPERS and J & L TONEWOODS purchased the maple knowing it was stolen and then sold it to out of state companies for more than $800,000.

            Violations of the Lacey Act are punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.  The other charges in the indictment are punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

            The charges contained in the indictment are only allegations.  A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

            The case is being investigated by the U.S. Forest Service.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Seth Wilkinson.

Updated August 6, 2015