Timber Theft: A Kentucky Overview

Timber theft is a common occurrence in Kentucky. Successful prosecution of perpetrators is not. Nina Cornett, KWOA member and long-time advocate for victims of timber theft, has graciously provided us with an outline of her extensive experience, research and interviews with timber theft victims and investigators. Cornett urges anyone who has had timber taken from their property to be fully aware of what they may face in the civil and criminal legal systems should they desire to prosecute. Cornett posits that successful prosecutions are rare and only changes in the laws addressing these thefts and an elevation of the importance of preventing and redressing these crimes will alleviate the problem.

For a full copy of Ms. Cornett’s research, please email her at Ngcornett@aol.com.

For a link to the University of Kentucky’s website regarding timber trespass go to www.ca.uky.edu/forestryextension/timbertrespass.php.

The KWOA winter newsletter will publish an article about a recent successfully prosecuted timber theft case. Stay tuned!

TIMBER THEFT – WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A VICTIM

“What’s all the fuss about a few trees?” (Purported statement by relative of logger indicted for stealing more than a hundred trees and suspected of stealing many more)

“The majority of timber theft occurs under what has been deemed a ‘culture of theft’ [emphasis added]. This [culture] is responsible for the belief that taking. . .trees here or there. . .has no real ‘harm’ but is necessary to allow the logger to ‘make a buck’. (GAP: Field Guide to Timber Theft)

“What murder case do you want me to stop working on to investigate your timber theft?” (Question by Sheriff to more than one victim)

“Why are you clogging up the courts with a civil case?” (Question by Commonwealth’s Attorney to Sheriff’s Deputy who investigated a timber theft and asked for a criminal prosecution)

“Go file a civil suit.” (Statement to a number of victims by legal authorities)

“Many times criminal acts are hidden under the cloak of civil remedy.” (GAP: Field Guide to Timber Theft)

“This won’t come to nothing. You know they [the victims] aren’t going to have the kind of money you need to get a survey and get a timber consultant. He [the logger] don’t have to worry.” [reported statement by relative of person suspected of timber theft.]

“I have heard through the rumor mill that________________ bragged that they had in fact stolen your timber. _________________________ has apparently said the same thing according to the sources, none of which are willing to give a statement to these comments”. (Prosecutor to victim of timber theft after a trial in which an accused timber thief got off)

“The reason people continue to steal timber is because they can.” (statement by timber theft victim)

TIMBER THEFT: WHAT A VICTIM NEEDS TO KNOW

A. Victims, Losses, and Victimization Methods
1. Victims.
1. Losses
2. Victimization Methods

B. Recourse
1. Criminal Law
2. State Civil Action
3. Federal Racketeering Statute

C. Obstacles:
1. “Boundary dispute”
2. “You’re not from here.”
3. “Clogging” the courts
4. Foot-dragging

D. Property rights

E. “Get-Even/Strike First” Warrant:
1. The “Keep off your own land” tactic.
2. The Fake charge
3. “Harassment without contact”
4. Countersuit for Defamation Threat

F. The “entry” fee
1. Survey costs
2. Timber Appraisal
3. Witness Fees
4. Legal Fees

G. The Loss Valuation problem
1. “Clean Water Act” limitation
2. “Can’t count in court” problem
3. “Garage” analogy

H. The “Legal” aspect
1. Finding a lawyer
2. Dealing with legal tactics; evidence gathering, etc
3. Bar Association Futility
4. Rights in court.
5. Be the Criminal

I. Trial Issues:
1. Delays
2. “Don’t get me involved.”
3. Reluctance to testify
4. “Let’s Settle It” issue

J. Incentivizing the Thief:
1. Ray’s case
2. Jeannette’s situation
3. “Undergoing chemotherapy”
4. Nobody goes after the “fence” or the transporter
5. Bad Actor” if pollute water, but not if steal.

K. What Other States Do

L. Where to from Here?