U.S. DISTRICT COURT CASE

UPDATED: Four men accused of trespassing on federal wildlife refuge on Metinic Island

Thu, 01/09/2020 - 8:00pm

PORTLAND (Jan. 10, 2020) - The four men, including an Owls Head resident, who were accused of trespassing on a national wildlife refuge in Aug. 2018, each pleaded guilty at their initial court appearance in U.S. District Court Friday afternoon, Jan. 10.

Clayton Witham, 58, of Owls Head; Benjamin Tucker Thompson, 59, of Freeport; Peter Johnson, 58, of Littleton, Mass.; and Thomas Wengler, 59, of South Dennis, Mass. were each fined $1500 by Magistrate Judge John Ridge III during the hearing.

Full payment of the fine was due immediately from each defendant.

All four defendants were represented by Attorney Stacey D. Neumann of the Portland law firm Murray Plumb and Murray.


METINIC ISLAND — Four men, including an Owls Head resident, are accused of trespassing on a national wildlife refuge in Aug. 2018.

The men, who were charged Jan. 3 in U.S. District Court in Portland, are Clayton Witham, 58, of Owls Head; Benjamin Tucker Thompson, 59, of Freeport; Peter Johnson, 58, of Littleton, Mass.; and Thomas Wengler, 59, of South Dennis, Mass. Each were charged with single counts of trespassing on federal land on Metinic Island.

According to the case filed in court by the Assistant U.S. Attorney, the four defendants are accused of camping overnight on the refuge and pitching tents, mowing grass and building a fire during their stay on the federal land. Their friends and family members were also with them on Aug., 11, 2018.

The federal government owns 149 acres on the northern half of Metinic Island, and the refuge was established in 1993.

Several types of birds inhabit the island including terns, herring gulls, spotted sandpipers, common eiders, black guillemots and sparrows. Private landowners currently own about 120 sheep that graze the entire island, according to the Maine Coastal Islands website.

The island is located in Knox County, southeast of Port Clyde on the mainland and west of Matinicus Island. It is approximately two miles long and is less than half a mile wide at its widest point, according to Wikipedia.

Witham also owns land that abuts the refuge.

The refuge is closed to the public each year from April 1 through Aug. 31. This information is posted on the land where the defendants were camping. The closure period is imposed to avoid the disruption of the seabird nesting season, according to the court document.

All of the defendants except Witham had received violation notices for the same offense in August 2012.

The four men will make their initial appearance in in U.S. District Court Jan. 10 before Magistrate Judge John Rich III. At the hearing, they will enter their pleas and be sentenced, according to the court’s website.

If convicted, the maximum sentence could be up to 180 days in jail and a fine not to exceed $5,000.

Sarah Shepherd can be reached at news@penbaypilot.com