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Ginseng thief convicted, must pay nearly $4,000

  • Associated Press
  • May 14, 2014 - 2:55 PM

MADISON, Wis. — A judge has ordered a western Wisconsin man to pay nearly $4,000 in fines and restitution for illegally harvesting ginseng.

Trempealeau County prosecutors charged Timothy Kampa of Independence in February with 32 counts of harvesting the plant out-of-season and failing to get permission to harvest on private land.

Kampa, 43, pleaded no contest to eight counts in a deal with prosecutors on April 25. Judge John Damon ordered him to pay $2,748 in fines and pay $1,000 in restitution to landowners who lost their ginseng to him. He also must forfeit 14 pounds of ginseng worth about $10,000 that Department of Natural Resources wardens seized from him.

DNR Warden Chris Shea said in a statement released Wednesday that Kampa started harvesting ginseng in July and August prior to the start of the state ginseng season on Sept. 1. He would dress in camouflage and park his car at rest areas and cemeteries where the vehicle would raise no suspicion and head off into the woods.

"Kampa just harvested where and when he wanted," Shea said in the statement.

Kampa's attorney, Thomas Bilski, said he thinks the DNR is "nuts."

Kampa has been gathering ginseng since he was a little boy, Bilski said, and still operates under what Bilski called the old ways, when people out in the woods didn't worry about property boundaries.

"He wasn't trying to hurt anybody. He's done this all his life," Bilski said. "Yeah, he was trespassing but from his viewpoint he was digging up a plant."

Asked why Kampa was wearing camouflage and apparently hiding his car, Bilski said the DNR wants "to make this like Al Capone."

Asian cultures have long coveted ginseng, a five-leafed plant with red berries. Many believe its root possesses medicinal qualities. The plant takes years to mature and has been harvested to near extinction in China, forcing buyers to turn to Northern America and driving up prices.

© 2014 Star Tribune