The Case: Catching and Prosecuting Timber Thieves is a Long Process

The Case: Catching and Prosecuting Timber Thieves is a Long Process

In late 2015, the DNR sent out a standard timber harvest proposal for bid. The harvesting was to take place on state-managed forest land in Menominee County, Michigan. As expected, the bids came back close to each other. R&J Logging, based out of Stephenson and owned by Raymond Vetort, won the bid by $40,000, a significant difference that really stood out.

Local foresters marked thousands of trees at a time that needed to come down. They walked the 92 acres of land and physically and electronically documented high-dollar trees that were not included in the agreement. Before R&J began the harvest, foresters noticed newly marked trees.

Given the red flag of new suspiciously marked trees, they patiently patrolled the land and waited.

Twelve to 18 months later, R&J Logging started its harvest. The DNR confirmed new trees were being marked and cut down. They watched Vetort drop the trees. At the same time, they conducted interviews and collected paint samples from the trees they knew were not included in the harvest.

Conducting their investigation and analysis seemed to take a long time. However, the Michigan State Police lab confirmed the chemicals on the newly marked trees matched chemicals Vetort had in his possession. Vetort confessed. He had cut about half of the 92 acres. It was determined that $100,000 in timber value was involved.

With every harvested tree documented, in 2016 the DNR reclaimed the timber sale. The DNR confirmed with mill operators who purchased the timber and compared what was sold with what was harvested. Documentation was found in Vetort’s house, obtained by search warrants.

In 2021, Vetort was charged with trespassing or damages to state land, larceny and malicious destruction of property. He pleaded guilty in October 2021. He was ordered to pay $119,000 in reimbursement to the state and serve three years of probation, with six months in jail suspended pending his successful completion of his probation term. (Champion, 2023)