U.S. attorney criticizes Ellen's quest for pardon

Calling him the "wrong martyr" for people opposed to wetlands laws, U.S. Attorney Richard D. Bennett said that convicted wetlands polluter William B. Ellen has distorted the record to attract supporters to his bid for a presidential pardon.

Mr. Bennett held a midday briefing in Cambridge yesterday to clear up misconceptions he said have been perpetrated by Mr. Ellen in a bid to avoid a six-month sentence he is due to begin tomorrow at a federal prison in Petersburg, Va.


"If those concerned about wetlands policy are looking for a vehicle and a martyr, they've chosen the wrong vehicle and the wrong martyr," Mr. Bennett said in a telephone interview after the briefing.

"He had every warning under the sun. He willfully misrepresented and lied about things to various government officials and contractors."


Mr. Bennett was joined by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane F. Barrett, the prosecuting attorney in the case, and Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-1st, who said he was convinced after reading the trial record that Mr. Ellen should serve his time.

On Wednesday, the three went to the White House, where they presented a Bush administration official with their case against a pardon. "We were very well-received and treated very courteously," Mr. Bennett said, declining further comment on the discussions.

Mr. Ellen, a 47-year-old marine engineer from Matthews, Va., was convicted by a U.S. District Court jury in January 1991 of five felony water-pollution charges. They found that he filled 86 acres of wetlands on a vast tract of land in Dorchester County without obtaining the environmental permits required by federal law.

Prosecutors argued that Mr. Ellen ignored repeated warnings by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and even his own civil engineer to stop all work until he could obtain the permits. In the face of these warnings, they said, he excavated ponds, cleared land, and built new roads in protected wetlands.

He had been hired by Paul T. Jones II, a New York commodities trader, to develop the land near the Blackwater Refuge into a personal and corporate retreat that would serve as a hunting and wildlife sanctuary. The land, known as Tudor Farms, consists of 3,000 acres.

Mr. Jones avoided trial by pleading guilty to a misdemeanor in 1990. He paid $2 million in fines and restitution.

Mr. Ellen's quest for leniency attracted a favorable editorial in the Wall Street Journal and the support of a Cambridge-based property owners organization called the Fairness to Landowners Committee. Its founder, Margaret Ann Reigel, has become his unpaid publicist.

Mr. Bennett rebutted Mr. Ellen's claims that he was prosecuted for violating wetlands laws that went into effect in 1989 -- after he had already stopped work on Tudor Farms. All the charges, he said, were based on a mid-1970s wetlands act. Also, he said the six-month sentence was not unusually harsh for an environmental criminal, adding that stiffer penalties have been imposed in similar cases.


"It's pretty telling to me that Bill Ellen chose not to testify in the trial," he said. "Now, when he's about off to prison, he tells well-connected friends to adopt those misrepresented facts hook, line and sinker."

Mrs. Reigel, told of the U.S. attorney's comments, said she and other friends of Mr. Ellen were not trying to reargue the case. Instead, they are arguing that the sentence is unfair.

"We are asking a fundamental moral issue: Do the American people believe we should be sending dirt-movers to a federal penitentiary when we have murderers, rapists and drug dealers on the street?" she said. Mrs. Reigel said she hopes to deliver pro-pardon petitions containing 4,000 signatures to the president early next week.