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Plea in Amherst wetlands case nets $250,000 fine by developer Huntress

An Amherst developer will pay a $250,000 fine under a plea agreement ending a nine-year court fight over allegations that it illegally filled in wetlands and cut down trees.

Acquest Development stopped well short of admitting that it violated the Clean Water Act , but the company did plead guilty to violating a court-ordered injunction against work being done at the vacant Transit Road site.

As part of the deal, criminal charges against Acquest owner William L. Huntress were dropped.

“Although this is a corporate plea, the corporation is solely owned and solely operated by one man – William Huntress,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron J. Mango, who led the prosecution.

He said Acquest violated one of U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny’s court orders prohibiting work on the Transit Road site by directing a local farmer to move soil there a year later.

Even though the charges against Huntress were dropped, the plea deal notes that Huntress is the sole owner of the corporation that pleaded guilty to criminal contempt.

The case against Acquest and Huntress dates from 2008 and centered on allegations that the developer illegally filled in wetlands and removed trees on a 97-acre parcel of land at 10880 Transit Road in Amherst. Huntress, 57, who has a reputation for butting heads with neighborhood residents and public officials, was indicted on charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to defraud. The indictment also charged two of Huntress’ companies, Acquest Development LLC and Acquest Transit LLC. The prosecution claimed that Huntress knew the Transit Road site was a wetland when he bought it in 2006.

The government’s case against Acquest ended in March of 2013 when Skretny, citing the prosecution’s improper influence of the grand jury, dismissed an indictment against Huntress and his company. The government re-indicted Huntress and Acquest a short time later.