A former Woodmohr town board member has been charged with improperly cutting down trees in the town and profiting from selling the timber.
John J. Seibel, 14252 115th St., Bloomer, was charged in Chippewa County Court with two counts of misconduct in office, which is a felony, and one count of misdemeanor theft-party to a crime.
Seibel will appear in court Feb. 11. Seibel is no longer on the town board, but he was in 2017 when the investigation was happening.
The criminal complaint states that Seibel and a man he hired to help remove trees were overheard “bragging in the tavern they could get people all the firewood they wanted and they were cutting township trees for profit.”
In spring 2017, an investigator in the Chippewa County Sheriff’s Office was contacted by multiple homeowners in the town of Woodmohr, near Bloomer.
The homeowners said Seibel and another man were cutting down “mature, healthy” oak trees while leaving others behind.
The investigator visited several properties along 125th Street, 135th Avenue, and 180th Street, and he tallied at least 185 healthy oak trees had been removed between all the sites.
However, several large trees had been left standing, including many that were hanging over the roadway. The investigator determined that Seibel had been “selectively cutting” trees.
However, the investigator found no mention of removing unsafe trees while reviewing several town board meeting minutes.
“If the trees were truly a safety concern, the investigator did not believe the trees became a safety concern overnight, and that there was ample time for the town of Woodmohr to contact the landowners and discuss the cutting during a town board meeting.”
The town board voted to pay Seibel to use his personal skid steer in 2017 to remove trees. Minutes from the February 2017 meeting show the town paid him $4,046, and in March 2017, the town board paid him $9,685.
Dennis Hutchison, a Department of Natural Resources forest ranger, examined the area and determined that Seibel had harvested 3,000 “board feet” of red oak and 1,000 “board feet” of red maple from the properties. Officers took pictures of the stumps of the removed trees in the town. They saw “at least 10 trees” that were removed were outside of the right-of-way, meaning they were on private property.
The Chippewa County Sheriff’s Department first announced its investigation into the tree removal in a 35-page report that was released in July 2018. Other town officials were also under investigation, but Chippewa County district attorney Wade Newell said Tuesday that no other charges are expected at this time.
According to that 2018 police report, former Woodmohr town supervisor Darrell Bowe filed a report of fraud with the sheriff’s department, contending that Seibel was performing brush work for the town, and had submitted a bill for 202 hours worked, at $14 per hour, for a total of $2,611.66, and skid steer use of 94 hours, at $75 an hour, for a total of $7,050, along with mileage for 45 miles at .535 per mile, for a total of $24.08. This is a total of $9,685.66.