A Virginia contractor has been convicted of illegally filling in 86 acres of wetlands on a Maryland Eastern Shore hunting preserve owned by a New York commodities trader.
William Ellen, 44, of Mathews, Va., was convicted last week in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on five of six charges of violating the federal Clean Water Act for actions he took while working on a game preserve owned by commodities trader Paul Tudor Jones II. Ellen faces a 15-year prison sentence and more than $250,000 in fines during sentencing April 15, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane Barrett said.
"It sends a message that you fill in wetlands at your own peril," Barrett said. "We're very serious about enforcement."
The conviction is part of the largest criminal wetlands-abuse case in the nation's history. Jones pleaded guilty last May to a charge of illegally filling wetlands.
The commodities trader agreed to pay a $1 million fine and $1 million in restitution to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for use at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge near his property. He has also been barred from hunting migratory waterfowl anywhere in the United States for two years.
Prosecutors said in closing remarks that Ellen was responsible for the "blatant destruction of federally protected wetlands."
Defense attorney Benjamin Sharp responded that Ellen depended on the advice of government bureaucrats who misled him and later sought his prosecution to cover up their own inadequacies.
"This was a premeditated environmental crime and I think the jury bought that," Barrett said after the conviction. "This was a knowing violation and that's what the charges were."
Barrett and fellow prosecutor Ethan Bauman said in closing arguments that Ellen deliberately ignored repeated warnings about meeting federal permit requirements, knowingly and willingly supervised illegal wetlands work, and later concealed the work when authorities questioned what had been done.
Construction crews filled wetlands, bulldozed ponds and built illegal roads at the 3,272-acre Tudor Farms in Dorchester County for 18 months before work was halted on orders from the Army Corps of Engineers in March 1989, prosecutors said.
Sharp argued that Ellen, a marine engineer, sought help from state and federal environmental officials who gave him wetlands and topographical maps of the area but failed to tell him he needed specific permits to comply with the environmental regulations whose violation led to his indictment.
The defense attorney said Ellen obtained state and county permits and consulted Alex Dolgos, a Corps of Engineers official, on how to develop the property without federal permits. Sharp said Ellen followed Dolgos's instructions to the letter.
Dolgos testified as a prosecution witness that he repeatedly told Ellen that the wetlands were being filled illegally and without the required permits.
Phoenix Inc., a Frederick construction supply and real estate company, has sought protection from creditors in Bankruptcy Court.
Ralph Kline, chief executive of the company, said Phoenix entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings on Dec. 21 after it defaulted on a $11 million loan from the troubled Bank of New England.
"We're not bankrupt. We have more assets than liabilities," Kline said. "We've been here for years and we'll be here for years."
Phoenix, which employs more than 200 workers, operates a quarry, a concrete block plant, a builders' supply business and a real estate division. Kline said the company had ordered seasonal layoffs of an undisclosed number of employees.
Kline said the company tried to renegotiate a 1987 loan with the Bank of New England, but the bank filed an $11.7 million judgment against Phoenix.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. this week rescued Bank of New England. Real estate loans that had gone bad were among the problems the FDIC noted in its takeover. It is unlikely that Phoenix will be able to renegotiate terms of the loan until a buyer is found for the bank.
IN THE BUSINESS ... November home sales in Virginia totaled 3,973 in November, down 17.7 percent from 4,830 in November 1989, the Virginia Association of Realtors reported. In Northern Virginia, the total was 1,049 in November, down 5.4 percent from 1,109 a year earlier. In the first 11 months of the year, 16,657 homes were sold in the region, down 12.2 percent from 18,973 during the same period in 1989 ... November single-family home sales in Howard County totaled 152, down 37 percent from the 245 during November 1989, the Howard County Association of Realtors reported. The average sale price was $187,297, compared with $186,030 a year earlier ... In Prince George's County, single-family home sales totaled 341 in December, down 5 percent from 361 in December 1989, the Prince George's Association of Realtors reported. Sales totals for the year were off 12 percent from 1989. In 1990, 7,621 homes sold, versus 8,327 in 1989. The average price was $122,600 last year, up from $116,400 in 1989 ... Kettler Brothers Inc. said it sold 25 homes costing $140,000 to $600,000 apiece in the November-December period, the largest number for the period since 1987.
Contracts worth $33.7 million of future construction in the District were signed in November, down 68 percent from $106.6 million in November 1989, the F.W. Dodge Division of McGraw-Hill Inc. reported. In the standard metropolitan area, including the Northern Virginia and Maryland suburbs, contracts totaling $283.6 million were signed, down 31 percent from $409.1 million in November 1989 ... Housing permits in the metropolitan area were down 24 percent during the first 11 months of 1990 from the same period in the previous year, according to Regis J. Sheehan & Associates, a McLean consulting firm. From January to November 1990, 23,108 permits were issued in the area, compared with 30,401 permits in 1989. In the District, permits were down 8.7 percent to 368 from 403 in 1989. In the Maryland suburbs, permits totaled 12,186, down 17.4 percent from 14,752 during the first 11 months of 1989. In the Virginia suburbs, 10,554 residential building permits were issued, down 30.8 percent from 15,246 in 1989.
Long & Foster Realty Inc. purchased Larasan Realty Corp., a Virginia Beach brokerage firm, making the Fairfax-based firm the third largest in the Hampton Roads area. Long & Foster already had five offices in that area. Completion of the acquisition is contingent on the settlement of recent state and federal investigations. Larasan is under investigation by Virginia state officials in connection with the alleged mishandling of $300,000 of clients' escrow money ... Electronic Realty Associates Inc. finalized master franchise licensing agreements for Singapore and Taiwan ... Marriott Corp. began construction on a 152-room hotel in Columbia, Md. It will be one of the company's lower-priced Courtyard hotels ... O'Meara Properties Inc. opened a new development called Lion's Gate in Odenton. The garden home community has 156 two-bedroom condominiums with prices starting at $82,700 ... PC Homes opened a new town house development in Prince William County. Ultimately, 1,715 town houses and condominiums are planned for River Oaks. The three-level town houses, which are now available, are priced from $120,000 ... Larry Hogan & Associates, a commercial real estate service company, is now offering real estate auction services ... Colquitt Carruthers Inc. of Fairfax and McLean-based Unique Properties of Virginia Inc., both brokerage, property management and appraisal firms, merged operations ... The Harrison/Alderman Group Inc., a Chantilly-based marketing firm, announced a new service called HomeAccess that will offer free information over the telephone about house listings. Using a touch-tone phone, callers can enter the price, location, type of home and number of bedrooms they are looking for and listen to listings within their parameters. The number is 1-800-284-9010 ... Prosperity Mortgage Corp., a subsidiary of Long & Foster, is offering a new mortgage program. The plan offers a fixed-rate, five-year term about 1.75 percent below the market rate of a 30-year fixed-rate loan and an option for a 25-year extension at market rates.
CALENDAR ... Women in Retail Real Estate is planning a seminar called "Fashion Retailing in the '90s" on Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Ramada Inn in Bethesda. For reservations, call 202-429-9888.
PERSONNEL FILE ... The Mortgage Bankers Association of America promoted Cheryl Patton Malloy to senior vice president for policy coordination and membership ... Terry Rowland was named vice president and general manager of Prosperity Mortgage, Long & Foster Real Estate Inc.'s mortgage affiliate ... George Shehan, vice president of American Landmark Inc., was named 1991 president of the Home Builders Association of Maryland ... The National Association of Home Builders named Don Markle executive director of the National Environmental and Energy Efficient Home Program ... The Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) elected Martin D. Levine senior vice president for low- and moderate-income housing.