UPDATE: Man Accused Of Illegally Cutting Neighbor’s Trees Disputes Number Of Trees Chopped
Resident will face theft charges in superior court; Lawyer says he cut down less trees, and by accident
A criminal case against a Rio Vista resident was transferred to Bergen County Superior Court Thursday morning. Jay Patel, who is accused of illegally cutting down 221 trees on his neighbor’s vacant property to get a better view of the Ramapo Mountains, made his first appearance in Mahwah Municipal Court Thursday morning.
Patel, of Tudor Rose Terrace, has been charged with second-degree theft and criminal mischief for allegedly cutting down more than $1 million worth of trees that blocked the view from his $2.4 million mansion. The trees were allegedly on a vacant lot owned by Patel’s neighbor Donald Cantow, who alleges Patel cut down trees ranging in size from two to 36 inches in diameter without permission, Mahwah Police said.
Ken Porro, Patel’s attorney, said the case against his client is “not right.” According to Porro, Patel hired contractors to cut down 54 trees on Cantow’s property, not 221. He also claims Patel cut them by mistake, and has been trying to work with Cantow on a “remediation plan” since they were chopped, in March 2011.
“It is a vacant lot, there is no house next door, so to the naked eye, it looks like the trees are on [Patel’s] property,” Porro said.
Arthur Chagaris, Cantow’s attorney, disagrees. “The property line is pretty clear,” he said. Chagaris also said the “remediation plan” offered by Patel to replace the 54 trees he claims he accidently chopped down, “doesn’t address the issue.”
Patel had previously been cited by the township for cutting down trees without a permit. At Thursday’s hearing, Judge Anthony Gianni transferred the indictable charges to superior court, saying “someone higher up the food chain than me will decide this.” However, he did grant Porro’s request that the municipal summonses be handled by Mahwah’s Environmental Commission.
“Mahwah’s ordinances are very clear, they say the Environmental Commission should handle matters of this nature,” Porro said. “I filed in June of 2011 to have the matter heard in front of the Environmental Commission.”
Porro claims that the criminal charges filed against Patel, and additional summonses filed against him in February 2012, are “an abuse of the process. [Patel] has been trying for almost a year to do the right thing, and we are looking at the possibility of filing a suit [against Cantow] for abusing the system,” Porro said. “My client’s rights are being violated,” he told the judge Thursday.
Chagaris said the Cantow family was "shocked and dismayed that someone would do this."