- Associated Press - Saturday, May 20, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - A 70-year-old man has been sentenced to three years of probation for stealing thousands of tree tops from black spruce in the Chippewa National Forest.

Joseph Leon Edminster was also ordered to pay $24,199 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service and complete 200 hours of community service. He was sentenced in federal court Friday.

Edminster pleaded guilty to one count of government theft in January. Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Provinzino says Edminster’s punishment would have been more severe had he not taken responsibility for his actions.

Prosecutors say Edminster admitted to cutting more than 2,700 tree tops from October 2008 to October 2014. He sold the tree tops to wholesalers for use as Christmas decorations.

Authorities estimate Edminster stole more than $24,000 worth of spruce tops.

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