The case of Benjamin Mathai of Manassas, accused of clear cutting wetlands on Old Neck Road (background, see here and here) ended with a guilty plea. Mathai appeared in Northampton County court Monday following an appeal of his June conviction. Mr. Mathai was brought before the court on charges of unpermitted encroachment into Northampton County’s Resource Protection Area, use of wetlands without a permit and unpermitted land disturbing activity. Mathai pleaded guilty to the three misdemeanor charges. “It is my fault,” he told the court.
Judge W. Revell Lewis III found Mathai guilty on all three charges.
“He said the contractor cut more than he intended. There is evidence to contradict this. He had an opportunity to stop it. A person ought to know that questions should be asked to the county,” Lewis said.
On the first and second charges, Judge Lewis sentenced Mathai to 12 months and suspended all but 20 days on each and fined him $1,000 on each of the charges. On the third charge he ordered him to pay a fine of $1,000. Mathai will serve 40 days in jail and pay $3,000 in fines.
According to testimony, Mr. Mathai told the court that what occurred was a breakdown in communication between his contractor and himself. He testified he found a contractor on Craigslist, and hired him to clear trees around his house. Instead, the contractor clear-cut over 3 acres of old-growth loblolly pine trees, grasses and wetlands.
Mathai contends that he was not there when the work occurred, however Planner Kelly Parks testified that neighboring property owners confirmed that he was on property when the cutting took place. The neighbors had gone to Mathai and asked him to cease the clearing operation. If anything, Mathai told the court he may have come to the property only to make a payment.
The county also contends Mr. Mathai was less than forthcoming with the Wetlands Board.
“Would you deny you told the Wetlands Board under oath you were not there?” asked County Attorney Bruce Jones. The defendant responded that he could not recall what he told the board.
“When the major work was done I was not there,” Mathai said.
The county is not pursuing perjury charges at this time.
While restoration efforts are in progress, mitigation must continue for five years, even if the property is sold.