Attorney General Cuomo Announces The Indictment Of Three Oswego County Men For Illegally Cutting And Selling Trees From State Forest Lands

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (December 4, 2008) -Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the indictment of three men for allegedly cutting and removing over seventy trees, the majority of which were black cherry, from the Altmar State Forest in the Oswego County Town of Albion. The trees have an estimated value in excess of $35,000.00.

The indictment charges William H. Battles, 49, of Albion Cross Road, Parish; Ted W. Bennett, 43, of Albion Cross Road, Pulaski; and Michael T. Humberstone, 36, of Macadoo Road, Rensselaer Falls; with Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, Criminal Possession of Stolen Property in the Third Degree, Criminal Mischief in the Second Degree, all class D felonies, and with violating state Environmental Conservation Law, a class A misdemeanor. The most serious charges carry maximum prison sentences of seven years. The case was originally investigated by the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigation.

“These men are accused of pillaging our state forest lands for personal gain and in the process leaving an environmental scar that will take decades to undo,” said Attorney General Cuomo. “New York’s parks and forests have a world-class reputation and are part of what makes this state such a beautiful place to live. My office will take every possible step to protect state lands from those who seek to destroy them.”

According to the complaint, in the summer of 2006, Bennett was hired by a private landowner to remove hemlock trees from a property that is immediately adjacent to the Altmar State Forest. Between June and August of 2006, Battles, Bennett and Humberstone, while acting together, are alleged to have entered the Altmar State Forest and illegally cut and removed the more valuable black cherry trees from state-owned land. Records reveal that the defendants received more than $18,000 after selling these illegally-cut trees to a lumber mill.

DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis said: “Our state forests are precious assets that must be protected and it is very important that DEC pursue anyone that exploits these resources. Thanks to the hard work of our staff, we were able to track down the potential violators to hold them accountable.”

In December 2006, a Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) forest ranger reported the theft of trees from Altmar State Forest. DEC’s Bureau of Environmental Crimes Investigation began an investigation, with the assistance of a timber inventory conducted by a DEC state forester which concluded that more than 70 trees had been stolen.

The three defendants were arraigned before Oswego County Court Judge Walter Hafner, Jr. Battles and Bennett were released on their own recognizance and Humberstone was sent back to the Broome County Correctional Facility where he is being held on unrelated federal charges.

The charges contained in the indictment are accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Nicholas DeMartino of the Syracuse office of the Criminal Prosecutions Bureau, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Richard Ernst. The investigation was conducted by Investigator Karen Williams of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Police, under the supervision of Lt. James Masuicca and Captain Woody Erickson.