Timber Theft Suspect Nabbed in Texas
I’ve shared several articles over the years discussing the various cases where landowners have been scammed during timber harvests by purchasers who violate the terms of their contract. In some cases, landowners are not even aware harvesting is taking place on his/her property. In others, a contract is never even drawn up as landowners trust the relationship will be implemented as defined by a conversation and a handshake.
In any case, whether written or not, the transaction is built on trust. In this case, that trust is emphasized because the harvesters are considered trustees and responsible for acting in the best interests of the landowners. When that doesn’t happen, the consequences are serious.
And unfortunately, some timber theft cases are never resolved, so I was happy to read about this case in Texas. I first stumbled on the case from an article by Trendon Hooker of KXXV and KRHD news as part of the 25 News team in Waco, Texas.
The Texas A&M Forest Service Law Enforcement Department is particularly aggressive in finding fraud and taking action. It’s a good thing, since the rising cost of timber can bring temptation to thieves.
Landowners who are unfamiliar with selling their timber are urged to contact their local Forest Service office and/or a reputable consulting forester to ensure their best protection before, during and after the sale.
Timber Theft Suspect Nabbed in Texas with a Third-Degree Felony for Breach of Contract
Forty-nine-year-old Troy Grice of Groveton, Texas has been charged with timber purchase as trustee with intent to defraud, a third-degree felony.
The Texas Natural Resource Code has a section which states that money collected from timber is trust money. If the trustee of that money doesn’t pay all the beneficiaries for the timber within 45 days of the timber being sold, that person has committed timber fraud. Although the statutes may change somewhat state-by-state nearly all states view the situation the same.
In January 2019, Grice entered a contract with a Jasper County landowner to harvest 314 acres of timber. He was working under his company Apex Timber. Grice started the agreed-upon harvest and made initial payments as outlined in their agreement. However, when delinquent payments started occurring, the landowner halted the harvest in April 2019. The landowner promptly notified the Texas A&M Forest Service Law Enforcement Department about the unpaid balance, and they began investigating the case.
Josh Mizrany, an investigator with Texas A&M Forest Service Law Enforcement Department, said “The past few years we have seen an increase in Timber Fraud cases. Most of these cases started off with a legitimate contract, but then the landowner only receives partial payment, or no payment at all.”
Once notified of the unpaid balance, the Texas A&M Forest Service Law Enforcement Department began its investigation of the case. They were unable to verify that Grice had paid all the trust money owed to the landowner. Grice turned himself in to authorities after a warrant was obtained by Texas A&M Forest Service law enforcement officers and was later released on a $30,000 bond.
Grice was arrested on March 5, 2020. The case was eventually brought before a grand jury. After hearing testimony, on February 25, 2021, the grand jury decided there was probable cause for Grice to be charged with a felony of the third degree. Grice was charged with defrauding the landowner of between $20,000 and $100,000 worth of timber.
Timber theft can take a variety of forms, from harvesting timber without the landowner’s knowledge or consent, to entering into a formal agreement, harvesting a landowner’s timber, and then not paying them the full purchase price. Sometimes while processing the landowner settlements it seems tempting to withhold some payments.
Mizrany points out that there are a lot of losers in these types of situations. Not only is the landowner put in a situation where he/she must take legal action to get what is rightfully theirs, but it puts a blemish on the timber industry as landowners become skeptical of those who are invited on their land, but turn into trespassers and thieves.
Fortunately, in this case the landowner acted quickly and contacted the proper authorities to get quick action. The longer the case sits the less likely it is to get a positive verdict or even to get restitution when it is awarded since most harvesters will have spent it quickly.
Landowners are encouraged to monitor any harvesting activity closely if they want to protect their property. It is very important that every timber contract clearly state terms of payment. If a contractor fails to adhere to those terms, the landowner should halt the process until payment is received, as the landowner in the above case did. Acting quickly is key to getting a positive result.
I know I’ve provided prevention tips before, but I think they are worth repeating.
To prevent timber theft, landowners should:
- Visit their property frequently.
- Have someone they know and trust report any cutting on their land immediately.
- Never sign a contract without checking several references of the buyer.
For the best price, insist on getting bids for their timber.
- Mark all property lines to assure cutting on adjacent property does not encroach on theirs.
- Utilize trail/deer cameras on their property that can record suspicious activity or individuals.
- Always hold their timber contractor to the agreed upon terms.
- Notify local Forest Service Law Enforcement as soon as possible. They will work with local law enforcement officials to support landowners in protecting their property.