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Loggers alleged to have stolen timber valued at $336,000

August 27, 2010

Two brothers who run logging operations in northwestern Louisiana were arrested on felony timber theft charges after a two-month investigation by Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry (LDAF) investigators, Commissioner Mike Strain, D.V.M., said.
Ricky Whitaker, 42, 6214 Quinlen Dr., Shreveport, and Jerry Whitaker, 52, 1409 Sample St., Mansfield, were arrested Aug. 25 and 26 after allegedly harvesting 200 acres of timber valued at $336,000 and failing to pay the majority of rightful owners.
Absentee landowners who own the 200 acres of timberland at the Caroline and Rafe Travis Estates off Friendship Road near Frierson filed complaints with the LDAF Forestry Enforcement division when their timber was cut without authorization.
Forestry Enforcement Manager Jim Baldwin said the Whitakers, operating as Whitaker Timber and Whitaker Logging, allegedly bought the timber rights from a landowner who only held a five percent interest in the property and another who held no ownership of the property. The land in question is owned collectively by 55 members of a family estate.
The Whitakers logged the timber between January and October of 2009.
Baldwin said the Whitakers allegedly failed to verify the ownership of the timber and did not secure signed contracts from 80 percent of the landowners as required by law.
Once the Whitakers sold the timber, they allegedly failed to pay the legitimate owners for the cut timber and did not set up an escrow account for the landowners who could not be located, Baldwin said.
“The Whitakers are veteran loggers and failed to secure the basic ownership information of the property,” Baldwin said. “A simple check with the DeSoto Parish Assessor’s Office and Clerk of Court would have revealed that the persons selling the timber were not the sole owners. In addition, an adjoining landowner warned the Whitakers that the person selling the timber probably didn’t have the authority to do so.”
“Timber theft is a very serious crime and will be investigated fully by my office,” Strain said. “I urge all absentee landowners to devise a system to check their timber holdings regularly. Landowners who are selling their timber should deal with loggers only after thoroughly checking their credentials.”
Strain urged the public to report any suspected timber theft to the LDAF’s Baton Rouge headquarters at 225-925-4500.