WASHBURN COUNTY -- Four men are facing felony charges following the removal of birch from land belonging to the County of Washburn which resulted in over $70,000 in damages and losses for the County.
Criminal complaints have been filed in Washburn County Circuit Court against Michael Balog, Steven Turner, Bradley Kent, and Andrew Mortensen charging them with conspiracy to commit theft of and criminal damage of property belonging to the County of Washburn.
On September 30, 2021, at around 8:30 AM, a Washburn County Sheriff’s Deputy was dispatched to the area of Long Lake Road just north of Stowe Road in Washburn County to check on a report of multiple suspicious vehicles with tarp-covered trailers on county property in an area that was clear cut.
The criminal complaint states that upon arriving at the location the Deputy observed a clear cut ‘swath’ approximately 20 acres in size. The Deputy located two green pickup trucks and two trailers holding birch poles. One of the trailers had a tarp partially covering the birch poles.
As the Deputy walked into the clear cut area he saw a man and spoke to him. The man looked to the west and said something and the Deputy heard another male voice respond. The first man was identified as Steven Turner. Turner told the Deputy that he was just out there to take a walk to collect fall leaves. Turner acknowledged ownership of one of the pickup trucks found at the location, however denied being there with anyone else, continuing to insist that he was just out there to take a walk in the woods.
Turner also acknowledged being on supervision with the Department of Corrections, and when the Deputy made a guess that the supervision was for charges of meth possession, theft, and disorderly conduct, Turner said the Deputy forgot one: obstruction. The criminal complaint indicates that the second male who the Deputy had heard talking, was not located immediately by law enforcement.
Additional law enforcement units began responding to the location. Turner was detained and placed into a squad car. Deputies found a white pickup truck in the woods near the clear cut area with the owner, Andrew Mortensen, and Bradley Kent inside the truck. When asked what they were doing, Kent shrugged and said ‘not a whole lot’, and Mortensen said that he was just out there ‘working’. Deputies escorted Mortensen and Kent out of the woods and they were also taken into custody.
The criminal complaint goes on to state that Mortensen and Kent allegedly told law enforcement that they had been at the location with Turner and Michael Balog, and that Turner and Balog had left them working a short time ago and ‘went for a walk’. Law enforcement determined that one of the multiple pickup trucks at the scene belonged to Michael Balog.
Multiple chainsaws and tools were found with the pickup trucks and trailers at the scene. All of the vehicles, tools, and trailers were removed from the scene to be held in evidence by the Washburn County Sheriff’s Office. Mortensen, Kent, and Turner were transported to the Washburn County Jail.
Total losses for the County of Washburn are estimated to be in excess of $70,000. Charges of Class G Felony Conspiracy to Commit Theft-Movable Property >$10,000-$100,000 and Class I Felony Conspiracy to Commit Criminal Damage to Property (Over $2500) are filed against Andrew Mortensen, Bradley Kent, Michael Balog, and Steven Turner. If convicted as charged, each of the men faces a potential maximum sentence of 13 years and 6 months confinement and $35,000 in fines, or both.
Online circuit court records show that on November 15, 2021, Mortensen, Kent, and Turner made initial appearances regarding their criminal charges. The Court ordered $5,000 signature bonds for each of them. Mortensen requested an adjourned initial appearance hearing on his case, and he is scheduled to appear again in November 2021. Turner and Kent are set to appear again in January 2022 for preliminary examination hearings on their charges. Balog has an adjourned initial appearance hearing scheduled regarding his charges on November 29, 2021.
Pursuant to the direction of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, as found in Supreme Court Rule 20:3.6, Trial Publicly, you are advised that a charge is merely an accusation and that a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.