A marine construction engineer has been convicted of five felony water pollution charges for illegally filling 86 acres of wetlands at an Eastern Shore game preserve while he ignored warnings from environmental officials that he stop work and obtain federal permits.
A jury of eight men and four women deliberated 12 1/2 hours during three days last week before convicting defendant William B. Ellen in U.S. District Court in Baltimore Friday to end the monthlong trial.
The jury acquitted Ellen, 44, of Mathews, Va., of one charge of illegally filling a wetlands roadway on the 3,272-acre Tudor Farms site near Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane F. Barrett said she hoped the verdict would show other Eastern Shore landowners and managers that "we take wetlands enforcement very seriously in Maryland."
She credited the FBI, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency for investigations that led to Ellen's conviction.
Ellen, who did not testify at the trial, declined to comment on the verdict. His lawyers said he probably will appeal it.
He faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison without parole and fines of $50,000 a day for each day of the violations. Judge Frederic N. Smalkin set sentencing for April 15.
Trial evidence showed that Ellen directed construction crews to fill tidal and nontidal wetlands, build roads and carve out a pond with bulldozers in violation of the Clean Water Act, which requires prior federal approvals and permits for wetlands work.
The offenses, which occurred between October 1987 and March 1989, continued for at least a year after Ellen received repeated warnings about getting permits and after he received a cease-and-desist order from the Corps of Engineers.
The wetlands work was done for what owner Paul Tudor Jones 2nd, an avid hunter and multimillionaire commodities trader, envisioned as a $15 million showcase hunting and game preserve for waterfowl.
Jones, 35, pleaded guilty last May to a misdemeanor charge for violating the Clean Water Act by illegally filling wetlands. He paid a $1 million fine and $1 million restitution to the government in a plea bargain with federal prosecutors, and was barred from hunting waterfowl for two years anywhere in the United States.
The Jones and Ellen cases make up what the government has described as the largest criminal wetlands prosecution in U.S. history.
Smalkin, in dismissing the jury after the verdict, noted that the Ellen trial was complicated and "difficult because you [jurors] had to apply criminal law to activities that are not usually thought of as criminal acts."