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Ohio siblings face felony charges after 250-year-old walnut tree is chopped down

Todd Jones and Laurel Hoffman said they thought the tree was on their family property, but authorities in the Cleveland area found otherwise.

Two Ohio siblings were charged with felony theft after they arranged to cut down a tree estimated to be over 250 years old that was on city property, officials said Friday.

An illegally felled black walnut tree.
An illegally felled black walnut tree estimated to be over two centuries old.Cleveland Metroparks PD

The siblings, Todd Jones, 56, and Laurel Hoffman, 54, are alleged to have illegally felled the centuries-old black walnut in the Cleveland suburb of Strongsville in September to sell it for lumber, Cleveland Metroparks Police said.

Jones' and Hoffman's stepmother, Debra Jones, lives in the house near where the tree was chopped down, at the border of Mill Stream Run Reservation, where Cleveland Metroparks recently acquired an adjacent property.

Debra Jones, the widow of the siblings' father, Robert A. Jones, was not charged.

In remarks to police, Jones initially denied having had anything to do with the tree's destruction and said his sister may have been to blame.

Jones reportedly became "defensive" after an officer told him that their records indicated that his stepmother had already shown them the tree stump and admitted that he and his sister had arranged to have it logged and sold for lumber.

The family said they believed the tree was on their property, but charging documents said a police investigation found that the center of the stump of the 5.5-foot-wide tree was 7.5 feet outside their property.

Further investigation found that the tree was worth $28,814.74 and that replacing it would cost $102,909.77.

Hoffman and Jones were charged Dec. 29 with one count each of theft by deception and falsification, according to court documents.

Hoffman told "It’s ours. I just don’t understand any of this."

"This is so ridiculous that they’re doing this," Jones told the news site. "This is insane. There was no ill intent."

The tree was in the nature preserve and its trunk was nearly 6 feet in diameter, making it one of the oldest in the Buckeye State, Metroparks spokesperson Jacqueline Gerling said.

"We suspect the tree was possibly over 250 years old. Given our urban setting and the threats to healthy tree growth, it is very uncommon to find a black walnut of this size," Gerling wrote in an email.

An illegally felled black walnut tree.
Todd Jones and Laurel Hoffman are accused of felling the black walnut tree in September.Cleveland Metroparks PD

The Cleveland Metroparks Police Department oversees more than 24,000 acres — including the reserve adjacent to the Jones home.

The U.S. Agriculture Department says that black walnut trees are "one of the scarcest and most coveted native hardwoods" and that they have been heavily logged.

Hoffman's attorney, Christina Brueck, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Jones did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The siblings are due to be arraigned Thursday.

In July, a California couple faced an $18,000 fine for destroying 36 Joshua Trees, which are protected as candidates for the California Endangered Species Act.

Earlier last year, an Arkansas man pleaded guilty to felling 27 trees in Mark Twain National Forest.

An NBC News investigation in July found that the world's largest home furnishing retailer, Ikea, is likely to have sold children's furniture made of illegally logged Russian pine.