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$250,000 JUDGMENT LEVIED AGAINST LOGGER Maine Forest Service Urges Landowners to Call Before You Cut
July 12, 2001
JULY 12, 2001
CONTACT: Linda Conti, Assistant Attorney General 207-626-8800
Officials with the Department of Conservation's Maine Forest Service and the Attorney General's office announced today that the Kennebec County Superior Court has found that Gerald Nelson, Jr. of Freedom violated the Unfair Trade Practices Act and the Consumer Solicitation Sales Act when he cut wood on the property of 11 woodlot owners and either paid them far below market value, or never paid them at all. Nelson will pay a civil penalty of $110,000, which is based on 11 intentional violations of the Unfair Trade Practices Act at $10,000 per violation. In addition, the Court ordered Nelson to pay $146,360 in restitution to the 11 woodlot owners.
Justice Donald Marden found Nelson deceived woodlot owners on two facts: First, he misrepresented the nature and the extent of the harvest that he conducted. In each case Nelson agreed to "selectively harvest" the woodlot, meaning he would take some but not all of the trees so landowners could perform future harvests. Instead Nelson performed a "high-grade" harvest, taking more, and more valuable wood than originally agreed upon. Second, he deceived landowners regarding the price he would pay for the wood, promising "fair" value but compensating them well below that mark.
Assistant Attorney General Linda Conti, who represented the State at the trial said, "Maine forests are wild in some ways, but they are not the Wild West. People who ignore the law and cheat with impunity will be prosecuted."
Five of the 11 landowners are Maine residents, and the remaining landowners reside in Kentucky, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. The harvests took place over a five-year period, from 1996 - 2001. The woodlots were located throughout the state, from Augusta, west to Skowhegan, and east to West Rockport. In only two instances did landowners obtain a written contract, or check references.
"Your woodlot is valuable. Don't treat it any different than you would your savings account," said Maine Forest Service Director Tom Doak. "This case illustrates that there are those who prey on peoples' lack of understanding relative to the value of wood. While the vast majority of loggers are reputable individuals, I urge landowners to call the Maine Forest Service before anyone cuts their wood." Director Doak added the Maine Forest Service could help landowners protect the many values woodlots hold, both esthetically and monetarily.
The judge ordered that prior to any future dealings with landowners, Nelson must disclose in contracts - in 14 point boldface type - that the consumer understands that, "Gerald Nelson Jr. has violated the Maine unfair trade practices act as well as the consumer solicitation sales act because of his woodlot harvesting practices."
Patty Cormier, John Leavitt, Mark Mayhew, Jim Mcmullen, Dick Morse, Sue Myers, and Merle Ring of the Maine Forest Service carried out the investigation that led to the trial and Court Order. Assistant Attorney General Linda Conti litigated the case.