Amherst developer’s firm, not him, convicted, fined in federal wetlands case - The Buffalo News

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Amherst developer’s firm, not him, convicted, fined in federal wetlands case

William L. Huntress’ eight-year battle with federal prosecutors ended Wednesday with a conviction and fine against his company, but not him.

The Amherst developer never admitted any wrongdoing, but Acquest Transit LLC, one of his firms, pleaded guilty to violating a court-ordered injunction against work being done at a wetlands site on Transit Road in Amherst.

Under a plea deal, criminal charges against Huntress were dropped.

The government’s prosecution of Huntress and Acquest dates from 2008 and centered on allegations that the developer illegally filled in wetlands on a 97-acre parcel of land at 10880 Transit Road.

Huntress, who was in court Wednesday, declined to comment, but his attorney said the developer is continuing his legal fight over jurisdiction of the wetlands site. Huntress has filed a civil suit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“There is no admission that the EPA has jurisdiction,” attorney Paul J. Cambria Jr. said of the plea agreement. “And we vehemently deny that they do.”

Cambria said Huntress views the government’s criminal prosecution as abusive and costly, and made that clear in a letter to Senior U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny, who is handling the case.

Acquest, in its plea agreement with federal prosecutors, stopped short of admitting that it violated the Clean Water Act, but the company did plead guilty to violating one of Skretny’s orders prohibiting work at the site.

And while it was Acquest that admitted guilt, prosecutors noted that Huntress is the company’s sole owner.

“There’s one person, and only one person, behind the entity that pleaded guilty and that’s William Huntress,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Aaron J. Mango said Wednesday.

In the end, Skretny fined Acquest $250,000, the amount outlined in the original plea agreement.

Huntress, 59, who has a reputation for butting heads with neighborhood residents and public officials, was originally indicted on charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to defraud. The indictment also charged two of his companies, Acquest Development LLC and Acquest Transit LLC.

The prosecution contended that Huntress knew that the Transit Road site was a wetland when he bought it in 2006.

The government’s case against Acquest ended in March 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.

email: pfairbanks@buffnews.com

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