Lake Tahoe woman gets plea deal after cutting trees on national forest
Aspen, CO Colorado
RENO, Nev. ” An Incline Village woman who hired a company to chop down trees on national forest land to enhance her view of Lake Tahoe agreed Thursday to pay $100,000 restitution and do 80 hours of community service in a plea deal with federal prosecutors that likely will keep her out of prison.
Patricia Marie Vincent, 57, was indicted in January by a federal grand jury in Reno on felony charges of theft of government property and willingly damaging government property. She faced up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of those original counts if convicted.
But in exchange for her guilty plea on Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Rachow agreed to drop the felony charges and charge her with one misdemeanor count of unlawfully cutting trees on U.S. land.
That crime carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison, a $100,00 fine and possible restitution. But Rachow said under the plea agreement, she would face a year of probation, 80 hours of community service and pay $100,000 in restitution ” with $35,000 going to the U.S. Forest Service and $65,000 going to the National Forest Foundation.
The ultimate sentence will be decided by U.S. District Judge Brian Sandoval on June 3.
“It is important for individuals to recognize that public lands are held in trust for the benefit of all citizens, and that activities on these lands are restricted,” U.S. Attorney Gregory Brower said Thursday. “Individuals who do not respect public land restrictions and cause damage may be prosecuted.”
Vincent originally pleaded not guilty to the charges. But she admitted to Sandoval on Thursday she hired a tree-cutting company to fell the three 80- to 100-year-old Ponderosa pines on Forest Service land next to her property.
Her lawyer, Scott Freeman of Reno, said he was pleased with the outcome.
“This was a fair resolution for both sides,” Freeman told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “The about of exposure Ms. Vincent was facing was incomprehensible to someone like her. As a consequence, both sides came to an agreeable compromise and were hopeful the court will follow our joint agreement at the time of sentencing.”
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Local fire officials in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties are heightening their fire concerns, and starting this week Stage 1 fire restrictions will be enacted. Stage 1 means no campfires in undeveloped sites, no fireworks and no smoking outside unless it’s in an area cleared of all combustible materials.