7 are convicted in timber theft ring Dutchess landowners were among victims The Associated Press FORT EDWARD, Washington County — Seven people have been convicted of defrauding landowners by logging in four upstate counties, including Dutchess, after providing false names, references and insurance documents then leaving without sharing profits from most of the logs they took. While some timber theft has gone on for years, it increases with market prices, said Fred Stannard, a Department of Environmental Conservation investigator, who says he has probably handled more than 25 cases in his Adirondack region over the past six years. "We do more and more. ... It's definitely a statewide problem," added Stannard, who has two ongoing investigations. "Actually it's countrywide." The investigation that ended with the seventh guilty plea last week in state court identified eight landowners in Washington, Warren, Saratoga and Dutchess counties who were cheated out of about $67,000 — about half the value of the few thousand trees taken from their land between June 2002 and August 2003, according to DEC officials. Under the contracts, loggers were to split with owners the proceeds from sales to log yards. "They were like locusts out there. They knew they had to get the trees in and out before the landowner actually could count the trucks," said Stannard, a former forest ranger. The investigation, involving 13 police agencies, lasted more than two years and led to indictments in April in Washington County. It began after one landowner complained and persisted. The ring centered on Shannon C. Dickinson, 33, of Fort Ann, who was involved in an earlier tree-cutting case on state land, Stannard said. Others logged or cashed checks. No truckers or log yards were charged. "The majority of the loggers are decent hardworking people," Stannard said. According to the DEC, Dickinson pleaded guilty Aug. 11 to one count of third-degree grand larceny, a felony, and agreed to restitution of $20,087. Denise Morehouse Dickinson, 26, of Hudson Falls, pleaded guilty last week to misdemeanor scheme to fraud. She agreed to pay restitution of $16,388. Both face sentencing Sept. 12. Anthony J. Morse, 28, of Lancaster, N.H., pleaded guilty July 3 to felony fraud and agreed to restitution of $8,680, the DEC said. Philip A. Morse, 47, Arlington, Vt., pleaded guilty to felony fraud and agreed to restitution of $5,750. Both face sentencing Sept. 5. Owen C. Fitzgerald, 32, of Gansevoort, Saratoga County, pleaded guilty last week to felony fraud. He was sentenced to 1 1/2-3 years in prison and restitution of $5,839, the agency said. Ronald W. Sharrow Jr., 44, residing at the Warren County Jail, pleaded guilty July 28 to fraud and was sentenced last week to 1 1/2-3 years in prison and restitution of $12,767. Scott Rafus, 36, of Manchester, Vt., pleaded guilty July 11 to felony fraud. He was sentenced Aug. 11 to time served, a three-year conditional discharge and $650 in restitution, according to the DEC. False names used "Some landowners did get some money. I think that was just to keep them away long enough," said Stannard, and afterward owners couldn't locate the loggers, who used false names. "You've got to pay attention to the loads of logs leaving your property." The DEC suggests landowners hire a professional forester to assess their trees, mark them for cutting and provide an estimate of their value, spokesman Dave Winchell said. The cost of a forester can range from a few hundred dollars for a 10-20-acre stand of timber to more than a thousand dollars for woodlots larger than 100 acres. The agency also recommends contacting its regional forestry office, a Cornell Cooperative Extension office or the New York Forest Owners Association for advice on timber sales. The state Legislature in 2004 increased the penalties for timber theft from violations to misdemeanors and established a provision for landowners to seek treble damages in civil cases, DEC officials said. Stannard said the price of logs was peaking between 2001 and 2004. Dickinson's method was to get tax maps from the county clerk's office and contact landowners. "In the old days, loggers would say, 'Gee whiz we made a mistake.' Then they'd contact the landowners and pay them for it," he said. "Those days seem to be rapidly disappearing." "The standard excuse that they didn't know where the boundary was really doesn't hold water," Stannard said. "They know where the property lines are."