CLEVELAND — A 57-year-old man and his 54-year-old sister pleaded guilty and were sentenced Wednesday for cutting down a black walnut tree in the Cleveland Metroparks Mill Stream Run Reservation.
According to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office, they both pleaded guilty to one count of theft each and were given a six month jail suspended jail sentence. They were also both ordered to pay back joint restitution of $20,000 to the Cleveland Metroparks. The restitution was paid in full on Wednesday.
“These siblings purposefully destroyed invaluable park property for their own personal profit, and we cannot allow those destructive actions to occur without consequence,” said Prosecutor Michael C. O’Malley. “Our regional park system is our greatest community asset, and we take our duty to protect it very seriously.”
The theft happened last year sometime between September 17 and 23. Authorities say the brother contracted a tree company to cut down the tree, which was about seven feet outside his property line near Royalton Road and Valley Parkway in Strongsville.
The prosecutor's office said the brother "verbally and through writing assured the felling company the tree was located on his property, even though various conditions including a surveyor’s stake, recently planted saplings in line with the tree, and a publicly available property search made it readily apparent the tree was located on park property."
After the tree was cut down, the siblings agreed to sell the wood to the tree removal company for $2,000, which in turn, was sold to a sawmill located in Geauga County. The Cleveland Metroparks Police Department investigated the incident. The tree was determined to be worth more than $28,000.
Furthermore, authorities said that the tree's removal severely damaged the area around the tree as well as saplings that were planted nearby. The cost to replace the tree and repair the damage in the area exceeded more than $100,000.
“The forests of our Emerald Necklace are to be conserved for generations,” said Jennifer Grieser, Cleveland Metroparks Director of Natural Resources. “While this more than 200-year-old tree cannot be replaced, thanks to the County Prosecutor’s Office the restitution from this case will support tree plantings for the future.”
This isn't the first time a tree has been cut down in a public park before in Northeast Ohio.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources previously told News 5 that high wood prices over the past few years have prompted individuals to steal trees from parks and even public property.
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