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Charge: Developer poisoned 123 trees to improve his views

SEATTLE -- A Seattle real estate developer has been charged for the poisoning of 123 trees with salt in Chelan County, and detectives said the suspect did it to improve the views on his own land and sales of lots.

George "Ted" Schroth, who is the founder and principal of GTS Development LLC, was arrested on Wednesday for suspicion of malicious mischief. He's accused of pouring two types of salt around the base of trees that border his property known as The Lookout at Chelan. According to court documents, the incident happened in October 2014.

According to a spokeswoman for Whiskey Ranch, the poplar trees, located on 32 acres along Dietrich Road, were planted in 2008 to create a natural buffer between future developments. Neighbors said the trees were planted before Schroth purchased the nearby property.

The caretaker of the Whiskey Ranch property noticed the white substance around the trees and then called police. According to court documents, the following day a woman who cleans properties at the Lookout and is married to the Whiskey Ranch caretaker found salt residue throughout Schroth's Chelan home. And in the garbage she found packaging for a new headlamp and utility knife.

A deputy called local stores to see if anyone made large purchases of salt, and that's when investigators learned Schroth bought 81 bags of salt worth $500 from a local Wal-Mart. Store employees provided investigators with surveillance video that shows Schroth paying for the salt then loading it in his truck.

When detectives asked Schroth about the salt purchases, he claimed it was so he could "stockpile it for winter."

"We are investigating the facts to determine an appropriate course of action," read a statement from Schroth's attorney, Cooper Offenbecher. "Ted Schroth is a civically-minded and active member of the Greater Seattle and Chelan communities. He is committed to responding to these allegations in a responsible manner."

Schroth began talking about the trees during questioning and how it would help his development if the trees were gone, according to court documents. Schroth said he tried to purchase the property to expand his development but the owner of Whiskey Ranch didn't want to sell the property. A spokeswoman for Whiskey Ranch confirmed that Schroth made an offer on the property, but said it was not a "financially viable" offer.

Whiskey ranch spent $5,000 removing the salt and repairing the soil. If the trees die it will cost more than $295,000 to replace them.

Schroth was released from jail on his own recognizance and is expected back in court on March 11.

At this time, Whiskey Ranch does not have any plans to develop the property and won't know "for a while" if the trees will survive, according to a spokeswoman.

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