LDAF forestry investigators make three timber related arrests in February

The following is a news release from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry:

Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain, D.V.M., said forestry enforcement officers arrested three men in two separate February felony timber theft incidents.

Strain said two brothers, Ricky Whitaker, 42, of Shreveport, and Michael Whitaker, 48, of Grand Cane, were arrested Feb. 23 at the DeSoto Parish Sheriff's Office in Mansfield and charged with stealing 20 acres of timber.

Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry enforcement officers determined that the Whitakers were hired to cut a 200-acre tract located off Friendship Road near Frierson, but the Whitakers also cut 20-acres of timber adjacent to the 200-acre tract without authorization, Strain said. Family members Charles Lowman, Robert Lowman and Juanita Neal, all of Michigan, own the 20-acre tract.

Forestry Enforcement Manager Jim Baldwin said the Whitakers were told the Lowman's 20-acre tract was not part of the timber to be cut.

"We were able to locate two witnesses that told the Whitakers that the 20 acres were not part of the sale, including the person who sold the 200 acres," Baldwin said. "The lady who sold the 200 acres told the Whitakers that the property they were cutting was not hers and they were going to get in trouble if they continued to cut the timber.

"Our second witness was a member of the Desoto Parish Sheriff's office who lived near the property. In addition, there was a fence separating the two properties."

The logging took place in August 2009 but the Lowman family did not know their timber was harvested illegally until December 2009 when the forester they hired to do timber management work discovered the plot had been cut.

In the second case, Strain said Salvadore M. Arnone, of Osyka, Mississippi, was arrested at the Tangipahoa Parish Jail in Amite on felony timber theft charges February 22.

LDAF enforcement officer Brock Vosburg said Arnone contracted with a Tangipahoa landowner to cut 10 acres of timber.

Mill tickets showed Arnone cut 14 loads of timber but only paid the landowner for 10.  Arnone is accused of pocketing $2500, the value of four loads.

Vosburg and fellow LDAF enforcement officer Roy St. Pierre conducted the investigation and made the arrest, Strain said.

"I urge everyone who suspects they may be a victim of illegal timber operations to call our Forestry office at 225-925-4500 and make a report," Strain said. "It's our job to protect the forestry landowners who live in the state and the absentee landowners as well. Timber theft is a crime and will be investigated thoroughly."