Idaho state Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, announced today that he's sending a check to the state for the 1996 "fair market value" of logs he stole from state school endowment land in 1996 to build his log home, and said, "I was mistaken to have done what I did." You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
"My logging experience back in 1996 was an expensive lesson in the school of hard knocks," Hart said in a statement. "I was mistaken to have done what I did and will never make that mistake again. And just this past week, I have learned more about this case that I did not understand at the time. In order to clear up any question as to whether or not this timber was paid for, today I sent a check for the timber's fair market value to the Idaho State Public School Permanent Endowment Fund. And since today's fair market value is only one half of what it was back in 1996, the amount of the check was based on the 1996 value."
Hart didn't say in his statement how much he was paying, but in 1996, the Idaho Department of Lands determined that the trees he cut illegally from state school endowment land near Spirit Lake were worth $2,443. Because the penalty for stealing state endowment-owned timber is "treble damages" or three times the value, it ordered Hart to pay $7,328. Instead, he fought the case in court, arguing that as a citizen, he had a right to cut and take the logs to build his own home. He lost three times, ending in the state Court of Appeals, and each time incurred judgments for additional amounts for the state's attorney fees and court costs for his "frivolous" challenges.
In the end, the Idaho Department of Lands filed a lien against Hart in Kootenai County for $22,827 in the case; that lien still is outstanding, but because more than five years have passed since the judgment, it's no longer enforceable. The state Attorney General, however, has called it a "moral obligation" that still should be paid. Hart did forfeit a $5,000 bond he put up when he appealed the case to the state Court of Appeals, but there's no record of any other payments.
You can read Hart's full news release here.