|By Art Bukowski, The Record-Eagle,
Traverse City, Mich.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Nov. 19, 2008 - TRAVERSE CITY -- A corporate boss who outraged local environmental groups will now take direction from one of them as punishment for the destruction of protected Great Lakes bottomlands.
Eighty-Sixth District Judge Michael Haley sentenced Joseph Moffa to one year of probation on Tuesday. Moffa, an owner of the Cherry Tree Inn on U.S. 31 North in East Bay Township, had a bulldozer drive more than 120 feet into the bay behind the hotel in November 2006.
Haley also ordered Moffa to complete 30 days of community service with the Grand Traverse Conservation District, a government organization that manages public lands and promotes environmental protection through education and volunteerism.
Moffa was convicted on two misdemeanors. Haley said jail time would send a "definitive and emphatic" message, but community service would serve a better purpose.
"The idea of community service work, particularly with the Grand Traverse Conservation District over a significant period of time, really might make more sense in the long run in terms of reaching other people who might be entertaining the type of activity that you undertook," he said.
GTCD Executive Director Lew Coulter isn't yet sure what Moffa will do.
"We would want to meet with Mr. Moffa, find out what skills he has and figure out how we could best use those skills to further the environmental stewardship of the county," he said.
Moffa, president of Ohio-based Omni Hospitality and vice president of Pride One Cherry Tree LLC, spoke briefly before the judge sentenced him.
"One thing I want to make clear here is that I apologize for what has been done, I apologize for what I did, and I clearly understand what it was ... there's no gray area. There may have been, but there's no gray area any longer," Moffa said.
Assistant Grand Traverse Prosecutor Bob Cooney said he doesn't "believe for one minute" that Moffa didn't know his actions were illegal. Haley agreed with that assessment and said he hopes Moffa's sentencing sends a message.
"I would really like the idea out there that this type of reckless behavior is undesirable to the corporate community, is unattractive to the corporate community ... to have other business people deterred from this type of activity would be a desirable consequence," Haley said.
Cherry Tree reached a deal to restore the damaged land before Prosecutor Al Schneider in June charged Moffa. The Inn since restored the bottomlands to DEQ standards.
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