A brother and sister in Ohio could face prison after cutting down what a prosecutor describes as an "irreplaceable" black walnut tree, one of the largest in the state and perhaps more than 250 years old. "This is so ridiculous that they're doing this," Todd Jones, 56, who felled the tree located 7.5 feet outside his property boundary on land owned by Cleveland Metroparks in the Cleveland suburb of Strongsville, tells Cleveland.com. Cuyahoga County prosecutor Michael O'Malley, however, says he takes seriously his office's duty to protect the 24,000-acre regional park system. "We will not ignore people trespassing onto park property and illegally cutting down irreplaceable trees for profit," he tells the New York Times.
A Metroparks employee was checking on saplings planted on land newly acquired by the park district when she noticed cages around the saplings had been smashed and at least one sapling had been destroyed, apparently by the falling of the massive black walnut tree, whose "freshly cut" stump stood nearby. A relative living at Jones' next-door property said the 56-year-old had planned to hire a logging company to cut down the tree so it could be sold for lumber to help pay off $15,000 in tax liens. The Cleveland Metroparks Police Department determined the tree, with a circumference of 17.25 feet, was worth at least $28,800, though it was allegedly sold for $2,000. The two largest known black walnut trees in Ohio measure 17.5 feet and just under 19 feet around, per Cleveland.com.
Police say Jones claimed the tree was his, despite admitting to never seeing a boundary survey. They also say he initially denied knowing who removed the tree before claiming sole responsibility in an effort to protect his sister, Laurel Hoffman, who'd signed a contract with the logging company claiming a property survey showed her to be the tree's rightful owner. Both Jones and Hoffman are charged with grand theft and falsification, fourth-degree felonies, and face up to 18 months in prison on each count if convicted. "This is insane," Jones counters, per Cleveland.com. "There was no ill intent." In fact, he argues the charges are payback for Metroparks trying and failing to buy his for-sale property for less than the property value—a claim the park district denies. (Read more Cleveland stories.)