A landscaper who in late January dug up hundreds of eastern white pine tree saplings from two Northwest Woods properties, one of the lots owned by the Peconic Land Trust, was directed to do so, according to East Hampton Town police, by an East Hampton homeowner, who now faces four felony charges.
Police have charged Ari M. Benjamin, 39, of Country Lane, also in Northwest Woods, who allegedly told the landscaper to plant the trees on his property. He was charged on Feb. 22 with third and fourth-degree grand larceny and third and fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property. The trees were valued at over $3,000, according to police.
The landscaper, Cesar A. Sarpes-Santos, 46, of Flanders, was arrested on Jan. 26 and charged with the same offenses. His case is pending.
The Peconic Land Trust has said that more than 350 saplings had been dug up and removed from its Wilson's Grove Preserve on Old Northwest Road, a 45-acre white pine and oak forest that is traversed by a section of the Paumanok Path trail system. Trees were also taken from a private property nearby.
In other police news, an officer on patrol earlier this month saw something suspicious and ended up arresting a driver on felony drug charges. At about 2:50 a.m. on March 9, at the end of Hand's Creek Road, close to Three Mile Harbor Drive in East Hampton, the officer noticed an occupied vehicle with Illinois license plates, its engine running and its lights off. The officer reported an "overwhelming smell of marijuana" coming from the car.
Alberto Gallegos-Becerril, 20, of Springs was inside, along with a passenger. The officer allegedly found small plastic bags of a white powdery substance, weighing one-eighth of an ounce, on the driver's-side floor board. The substance later tested positive for cocaine, police said.
The driver was charged with third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell and fourth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, both felonies. He was arraigned later that morning before East Hampton Town Justice Lisa R. Rana, who released him on his own recognizance.
On March 10, after pulling over a Montauk man on South Edgemere Street there for a traffic infraction, a town officer discovered an allegedly forged inspection certificate on his car. The sticker affixed to the windshield, police reported, was for a 2020 Mitsubishi, not the 2011 Honda that Li Chenguang, 58, was operating. He was charged with a misdemeanors: displaying a forged certificate without inspection. He was released on his own recognizance and is scheduled for arraignment on Wednesday.