Lumber Liquidators company pleads guilty to environmental crimes

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A plea agreement between the United States Department of Justice and Toano-based Lumber Liquidators means the company will pay more than $13 million in fines and restitution, and plead guilty to five federal charges involving illegal lumber trafficking.

“It’s about much more than flooring and profits, it’s about protecting these environments as a whole and our endangered species,” said Michael Lamonea, assistant special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Norfolk.

Court documents show Lumber Liquidators began knowingly importing illegally harvested timber that originated in far East Russia in 2011.

In 2013, the company harvested 800 percent more Mongolian Oak than its permits allowed, Lamonea said.

The forests it came from are the last habitat in the world for Siberian tigers and Amur leopards, according to prosecutors.

“There’s a huge environmental impact,” he said. “If you decimate the forest that only these wild species thrive in, then we decimate those already endangered species. There’s only, by scientific estimates, about 450 to 500 Siberian tigers that are in existence in the world today.”

The $13 million penalty is the largest in any timber trafficking case, which Lamonea says, “speaks to the volume of illicit activity that was going on in this investigation.”

In court Thursday, Judge Raymond Jackson scolded Lumber Liquidators because its chief compliance officer, Jill Witter, did not appear in court.

Attorneys for the company said she was away on business in China, and instead was represented by Lumber Liquidators’ chief financial officer Greg Whirley.

“I don’t know what’s in China that’s more important than here. When you see her, you tell her she’s skating on thin ice,” Jackson said.

Lumber Liquidators will begin paying the $13 million penalty in increments after its sentencing February 1, 2016.

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