The couple planned to sell the stolen trees in southern Minnesota as miniature Christmas trees.
Steven George Morterud, 22, and Tara Lynn Herrick, 23, were arrested Nov. 8 and charged with theft of timber, a gross misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of $3,000 and a year in jail, according to the Duluth News Tribune
. They also were charged with misdemeanor trespass.
Had Morterud and Herrick succeeded, they stood to make about $15,000 from the illegal sale.
"The total was 1,970 trees, and they said they are getting from $6 to $9 per tree top, so it would have been a felony theft had it gone through,” said
Don Bozovsky, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
Conservation officer who thwarted the attempt. “We get these illegal cuts just about every year, but this is the biggest one I’ve had."
Moterud and Herrick cut down the trees over several days and stashed their cuts on adjacent private land. The accused did not have a permit to cut trees, nor did they pay anything for each tree chopped down.
Eventually foresters notified Bozovsky, who first caught Moterud. According to Consumerist
, Moterud had no problem implicating Herrick in the alleged crime.
Initially, the two claimed that they knew they were cutting illegally but didn't know who owned the land. They also said they had been cutting since late October.
In a further twist to the story, Moterud was also charged with violation of a court order of protection for Herrick. Moterud was convicted earlier of domestic assault for trying to strangle her.