Woman Faces 10 Years in Jail for Cutting Down Protected Trees to Improve View

A woman has been indicted on charges alleging she had three large trees up to a century old cut down on sensitive federal land near Lake Tahoe to improve her view, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Officials said they weren't aware of any similar federal prosecutions.

Patricia M. Vincent, 58, was indicted last week on charges of theft of government property and willingly damaging government property. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count.

The three ponderosa pines stood on a plot the U.S. Forest Service had designated as environmentally sensitive as part of a water quality plan to help protect the clarity of Lake Tahoe. The trees were estimated at 80 to 100 years old; trees that age would be at least 2 feet in diameter at the base of the trunk.

"It is important that public lands, which are held in trust for the benefit of all citizens, are appropriately protected by our land management agencies," U.S. Attorney Gregory Brower said in a news release. "Individuals who unlawfully encroach on these lands and cause damage will be prosecuted."

Forest Service spokesman Rex Norman said there have been other cases of trees being cut down illegally on national forest land in the Tahoe Basin but he was not aware of any similar federal prosecution. Natalie Collins, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department in Las Vegas, said she also did not recall any similar prosecution.

The indictment accuses Vincent of hiring a commercial tree removal business in April to cut down the trees to enhance her view in Incline Village, one of the wealthiest towns on the shore of the mountain resort lake.

The damage exceeded $10,000, the indictment said.

Vincent could not be reached for comment and there was no indication if she had a lawyer. There is no telephone listing for a Patricia Vincent in Incline Village and there was no immediate response to calls and a fax message sent to a number listed for Robert Vincent at her address.