Former City Council candidate faces jail time for illegal tree removal

A former South Carolina City Council candidate faces five days in jail for the chopping down of two trees in an attempt to increase the value of a property.

Isle of Palms resident Jonathan Gandolfo was found guilty on Tuesday of removing two Oak trees – one deemed “significant” and the other “historic” - the Moultrie News reported.

A judged sentenced Gandolfo to two 30-day terms on two counts related to the tree removal. Both sentences were suspended upon his service of one day in jail on the first count and two weekends in jail on the second.

"I'm trying to remain aloof from it," Isle of Palms Mayor Jimmy Carroll said. "I will say that I think Isle of Palms sent a clear message that we protect our trees."

Authorities arrested Gandolfo - who lost a bid for one of two open seats on the City Council in February - in 2016 after he contracted someone to chop down the trees to increase the value of a property he was poised to purchase. The sale never went through.

He was found responsible for the arbor removal after a series of text messages between him and the person he paid to cut down the trees surfaced.

"You're gonna have to be a ninja about it and quick so the code guys don't interrupt you," Gandolfo said in one text.

"OK I would remove the trees first and then remove debris. In case someone stops by you can claim it was down and you are just removing debris. Need to go quick before heat comes down," Gandolfo continued.

"Need to make sure every twig, leaf, wood chip, and piece of debris is completely out of that yard and the neighbors. Can be zero signs of any tree work," Gandolfo added.

In addition to jail time, he faces $1,100 in fines and was ordered to perform community service for two weekends. He could face more fines from the city for violating its tree-removal ordinance. Last year, the city attempted to recoup $80,000 from Gandolfo, which include the cost to replace the trees.

"It was a split vote, but to me the bottom line is it says Isle of Palms is not going to let people walk away from cutting down significant trees," Carroll said. "Again, I think justice prevailed... I think you're going to see more municipalities, after seeing this, start cracking down harder."