An Ohio brother and sister are facing felony charges for cutting down a massive black walnut tree that lived for over 250 years in what is now a nature preserve in northeast Ohio, according to The Washington Post.
Todd Jones, 56, and Laurel Hoffman, 54, could be hit with charges of grand theft and falsification for chopping down the tree, which measured 5 1/2 feet wide and sat on Cleveland Metroparks property.
The two disagreed with the charges and insisted, in an interview with The Plain Dealer, that the tree was on their property.
"This is so ridiculous that they’re doing this," Todd said. "This is insane. There was no ill intent."
Jacqueline Gerling, a Cleveland Metroparks spokesperson, told The Post that the tree could be more than 250 years old and was likely worth more than $28,000. Police say the tree stood on land owned by Cleveland Metroparks, roughly 7½ feet from Todd's property line. Up until June, Todd's father's widow, Debra Jones, lived on the property but he took over ownership as she was having trouble paying the taxes and felt that the transfer could help relieve the financial burden.
Todd's father, who died several years ago, "assumed that tree was his," Debra told police, "and he blabbed about it."
When Todd took ownership of the property, he decided to cut the tree down and sell it in hopes that it would "help pay for some of the taxes," Debra further explained.
Police note that Todd and his sister, Laurel, received $2,000 from a logging company for the lumber it hauled away. The logger, who sold the bark for $10,106, is not criminally responsible because he "took reasonable on-site measures to verify" the tree was on Todd's property, police said via The Post.
It was Metroparks Natural Resources Director Jennifer Grieser who discovered the stump when she went to check on saplings planted for a restoration project.
"Any species that is 5.5 feet in diameter ... we just don’t get trees that are growing that tall and that are that old," Grieser said. "We need to be doing everything we can to protect trees, especially large mature trees like this one."
Todd initially denied knowing anything about the tree being cut down but later backtracked, adding that Hoffman had no involvement in the tree's removal and stating that he did not "want anyone in trouble for this other than" himself, The Post noted.
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