A former Woodmohr town board member made his initial appearance Feb. 11, on charges of misconduct in office and theft of movable property in relation to tree-cutting in the Town of Woodmohr.
Two counts of felony misconduct in office and one count of misdemeanor theft of movable property less than or equal to $2,500 as a party to a crime where filed Jan. 11, in Chippewa County court against John J. Seibel.
According to the criminal complaint, an investigation by the Chippewa County Sheriff’s department was begun in the spring of 2017, when several residents alleged that tree cutting in the road right-of-way on 125th Street, 135th Avenue and 180th Avenue was done by a town supervisor without being bid, that property owners were not notified of the tree cutting, that trees outside of the right-of-way were cut, that healthy, mature oak trees were cut and that the trees that were cut down were hauled away without the owner’s permission.
The subsequent investigation found that more than 185 trees were cut in that area of the town of Woodmohr. The criminal complaint said that “Investigator Randy Stearns was concerned on how the Town of Woodmohr selected which trees they were going to cut as many trees remained which were still overhanging the roadway. In addition, Investigator Stearns observed what he believed to be large popple trees left to remain standing which were situated closer to the roadway than an oak tree which was cut down. This investigator would compare the cutting of the trees to selective cutting.”
Stearns contacted Town Chairman Jerry Johnson regarding this issue. Johnson explained to Stearns that the Town of Woodmohr had a responsibility to cut down trees if they were deemed unsafe.
However, Stearns reviewed the Town of Woodmohr meeting minutes and since July of 2016 there was no mention of safety concerns on any of these roadways. He noted that if there were true safety concerns regarding the trees, it should have been mentioned during a meeting. Stearns did not believe the trees became a safety concern overnight, and that there was ample time for the Town of Woodmohr to contact the land owners and discuss the cutting during a town board meeting.
The complaint goes on to say, “In 2019, Wisconsin DNR Forest Ranger Dennis Hutchison inventoried the trees that were cut down on the above properties. Ranger Hutchison noted that 17 trees were harvested within the right of way of the road, and 13 trees were harvested beyond the right of way of the road on one property.”
Hutchison noted that 33 trees were harvested within the right of way of the road, and three trees were harvested beyond the right of way of the road on another property. He noted that 162 trees were harvested within the right of way of the road, and 30 trees were harvested beyond the right of way of the road on a third property. He estimated that the harvest from the third property included over 3,000 board foot of red oak, almost 1,000 board foot of red maple.
Stearns’ investigation also found that the minutes from the Feb. 15, 2017, board meeting of the Town of Woodmohr indicate that Town Supervisor John Seibel made a motion to approve the payment of various bills, which included a $4,046.28 blll payable to himself for roadwork, skidsteer, supplies, and mileage. And, the minutes from the March 15, 2017, board meeting of the Town of Woodmohr also indicate that Town Supervisor John Seibel made a motion to approve payment of various bills, which included a $9,685.66 bill payable to himself for roadwork, skidsteer and mileage.
If convicted, Seibel may be fined not more than $10,000, or imprisoned not more than three years and six months or both for each misconduct of office charge and may be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than nine months or both for the misdemeanor theft – party to a crime charge.
He is scheduled for a pre-trial conference on Thursday, Feb. 27 and a review hearing on Wednesday, March 18.