A Kirkland man has been convicted of felony theft and profiteering for illegally logging an underwater forest that slid into Lake Washington in an earthquake more than 1,000 years ago.
John J. Tortorelli was convicted by a King County Superior Court jury last week after a sixweek trial and four days of deliberation.
The trees are well-preserved, despite their age, because of the low oxygen content and low water temperature at the bottom of the lake, which separates Seattle from its eastern suburbs.
“These trees were good timber. … They were sold for a substantial sum of money,” Senior Deputy Prosecutor Lynn Prunhuber told jurors in closing arguments.
The trees belong to the state, prosecutors said.
Jurors rejected Tortorelli’s contention that he thought he was legally entitled to take the wood and was nothing more than an honest businessman who made a mistake.
An appeal is likely, said Deborah Phillips, one of Tortorelli’s attorneys.
Tortorelli faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, and prosecutors will ask that he be required to pay restitution for wood, valued at about $165,000. Sentencing will be scheduled next month.
Tortorelli, owner of Western Wood Lumber Co., a log-salvaging operation, said he made a goodfaith effort to comply with the law but could not understand the complicated rules and regulations on underwater log salvaging.
He was found guilty of three counts of firstdegree theft, two counts of first-degree trafficking in stolen property and single counts of seconddegree trafficking in stolen property, filing a false document to obtain a log-patrol license and illegal use of proceeds from criminal profiteering.
Prosecutors said Tortorelli knew he had no right to the trees when he sent divers down to cut them in 1991 and 1992.
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