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Man must pay $24,200 for stealing black spruce treetops from Minnesota national forest

ST. PAUL -- A Grand Rapids, Minn., man who stole thousands of black spruce treetops from the Chippewa National Forest in northern Minnesota must pay the U.S. Forest Service $24,199.50, complete 200 hours of community service and he will spend three years on probation.

Joseph Leon Edminster, 70, pleaded guilty to theft of government property in U.S. District Court in January. Edminster was accused of stealing more than 2,700 treetops between October 2008 and October 2014, according to a new release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

After stealing the tops, Edminster would sell them to wholesalers for $1.50 or $2.50 each for use as holiday decorations, according to a release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The wholesalers would then sell them to retail outlets in Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois for between $2.50 and $7.50 each.

The news release stated that Edminster stole at least $24,199.50 in treetops, which he must pay back.

Chippewa Forest Supervisor Darla Lenz said in January that it is common to harvest tree branches with a permit. Cutting tops off of spruce trees is usually not allowed, however, because it can damage the trees.  

The U.S. Forest Service’s Law Enforcement and Investigations Division investigated the case.