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Developer gets 45 days in jail for poisoning Lake Chelan neighbor’s trees

Wed., Dec. 9, 2015

Jefferson Robbins Wenatchee World

WENATCHEE – George T. "Ted" Schroth, the Bellevue-area land developer who tried to poison 123 trees at a Lake Chelan housing complex, must serve 45 days in jail for the crime.

Chelan County Superior Court Judge Lesley Allan added 30 days to the 15 days sought by prosecutors for Schroth, 47, who admitted heaping salt around the base of the trees under cover of darkness in October 2014 in an attempt to kill them off. He pleaded guilty to a charge of second-degree malicious mischief, a felony, and was sentenced Wednesday.

He is free until Jan. 4, when he must turn himself in to the Chelan County Regional Justice Center. He may serve the time on work release and, with good behavior and a day already served at his arrest, will likely be jailed for about 30 days.

"Over the past year I’ve felt guilt, remorse and shame on a level I’ve never thought possible," said Schroth, a managing partner in the Lookout at Lake Chelan development, in a lengthy statement that included apologies to the victims, his family and his supporters.

Schroth will pay more than $156,000 in restitution to the owners of Whiskey Ranch, the neighboring housing development that owned the poisoned trees, and is ordered to have no contact with its owners for five years. He requested to serve 30 days of community service in lieu of jail time – an offer Allan turned down for the stricter sentence.

"I think that is going to be a more appropriate message, Mr. Schroth, to our community, about the way we view your actions," she said.

Allan said the developer undertook a "cockamamie scheme" to remove trees that blocked the views from high-dollar lots he hoped to sell at the Lookout, on the lake’s picturesque north shore.

"That was not my reasoning," Schroth said, telling Allan that he had offered the Whiskey Ranch developers access to the Lookout property if they would remove the poplars. They refused, "and that frustrated me," he said.

Court records indicate about 130 trees were planted by Whiskey Ranch owners along a north-south fenceline about 10 years ago, during a feud over property rights with developers of Granite Ridge – an abandoned subdivision project that was later purchased for creation of the Lookout.

About 10 pounds of coarse rock salt and finer table salt was discovered Oct. 29, 2014, around the base of each poplar. Shoe and tire prints, salt residues in his nearby Lookout home and video of Schroth buying $500 worth of salt at the Chelan Wal-Mart store one day earlier tied him to the crime.

Interviewed in January by Chelan County sheriff’s deputies, Schroth admitted it would aid the Lookout project if the trees were removed, but he claimed to have purchased the salt for use as ice-melt. Lookout maintenance managers contradicted that statement.

Schroth was arrested in February and spent less than a day in jail. He has no prior criminal history.

After his arrest, Zoretic said, Schroth continued to try and gain control of Whiskey Ranch land, contacting the owners’ bankruptcy trustee to negotiate a purchase.

Schroth’s attorney Cooper Offenbecher of Seattle submitted 18 letters of support from Schroth’s family, friends, ministers and business associates, all asking for leniency in sentencing. In a letter composed Dec. 5, his wife described his act of vandalism as "so far out of character that I still am having a hard time wrapping my head around it."

In court, Offenbecher said recent surgeries and "personal issues with his family" may have contributed in part to Schroth’s actions.

As a developer, Schroth most notably headed up the $3 million renovation of Seattle’s Odd Fellows building beginning in 2007, which led community arts groups to move out due to the higher rents he established. In 2012, he partnered with Casey Roloff of Pacific Beach and Guy Evans of Chelan in the Lookout project, which calls for 300 homes featuring lakeside trails and public parks. Some 40 homes have been built and sold at the site.

In letters to Allany, his Lookout partners said Schroth headed an effort last summer to match $10,000 raised to aid victims of the Chelan Complex fire.

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Shawn Vestal

Shawn Vestal, our resident news columnist, has held officials accountable for their misdeeds and celebrated citizens who have risen to the occasion. His work has inspired some to take action, and others to fire off letters to the editor.

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