James Grafton Gore pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Baltimore yesterday to cutting more than 20 mature, government-owned trees near his Potomac home in 1988.
Authorities had charged in criminal and civil complaints that the Gore family cut the trees to get a better view of the Potomac River and to improve their satellite television reception.
Mr. Gore pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of destruction of trees on lands reserved for public use. He could receive a maximum penalty of one year in jail and $100,000 in fines when he is sentenced before District Judge Frederic N. Smalkin Sept. 16.
Mr. Gore's guilty plea came three months after his family settled a $1 million civil suit filed by the U.S. attorney's civil division against him and his sisters, Mary Benton Gore and Louise Gore, a one-time Republican candidate for governor.
All live in the 11300 block of River Road in Potomac, next to the 15-foot-wide, 2,600-foot long easement along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park where the trees were cut.
The civil settlement, reached in March, requires the family to reforest the land by planting new trees. Mr. Gore was the only one charged with criminal violations.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert M. Thomas Jr. said yesterday that the federal government paid the Gore family more than $88,000 for the property in 1978.
The sales agreement prohibited the family from cutting trees larger than 6 inches in diameter to protect the park from encroaching development.