The News: A Pike County-based Timber company had its assets seized and faces civil charges of racketeering after Georgia Forestry Commission officials say the defendants allegedly misrepresented both the type and amount of timber harvested so they could pay landowners a reduced price for the timber. At least 17 of the landowners were elderly. Six co-conspirators are also part of the lawsuit.
The timber company, Cox Land & Timber is based in Pike County, but the allegations of illegal conduct span at least 16 counties, according to Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney David Cooke.
Counties: Prosecutors say the investigation covered actions in the following Georgia counties: Bibb, Baldwin, Dodge, Fayette, Greene, Hancock, Henry, Jasper, Lamar, Meriwether, Monroe, Newton, Pike, Spaulding, Talbot and Taliaferro.
The Victims: According to Cooke, several elderly landowners were paid a reduced price by the company and its agents for timber on their land.
According to a news release sent by prosecutors, one elderly man was quoted between $15,000 and $30,000 for his timber. After the harvest, the man only received $6,686.82. An investigation found the defendants harvested about 655 tons more timber than they’d declared on a settlement sheet provided to the man.
In another instance, prosecutors say the defendants quoted an elderly woman between $50,000 and $80,000 for her timber, but she only received $37,984. According to prosecutors, the defendants claimed that her property had extensive beetle damage that prevented them from harvesting the amount of timber quoted, but according to prosecutors, the defendants harvested more than 289 tons more than was declared on the settlement sheet they gave to the woman.
The defendants also are alleged to have defrauded Graphic Packaging International, a Macon sawmill, by misrepresenting the ownership or origin of timber so they’d get a larger payment from the mill.
Assets Seized: Agents with the Georgia Forestry Commission served a search warrant Sept. 25 at Cox Land & Timber’s office in Pike County and seized the business along with its assets. Both the business and the assets will be held in a receivership during the pendency of the lawsuit.
Disclaimer: Each defendant in the lawsuit and the associated criminal cases is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.