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West Fargo business owner ordered to pay $4,000 for damaging endangered orchids

The Western Prairie Fringed Orchids are beginning to bloom in the Sheyenne National Grasslands in North Dakota as seen on July 6. Forum file photo

FARGO - A West Fargo business owner has been ordered to pay $4,000 for damaging nearly 200 endangered orchids last summer in the Sheyenne National Grasslands.

Federal prosecutors struck a deal with Matthew Thomas Ray Hanson late Thursday night over the petty offense charge he faced in Fargo's U.S. District Court.

Witness testimony in Hanson's sentencing hearing was slated to continue this morning but was unnecessary because of the agreement.

In accepting the deal, Magistrate Judge Karen K. Klein ordered Hanson to pay $4,000 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for the orchids he damaged.

Hanson was also placed on probation for 18 months.

He will serve no prison time and won't have to pay any additional fines, largely because his personal and business finances are in the red, Klein said.

Hanson pleaded guilty in May to charges that his company, Super Sprayers, illegally sprayed weed killer in June 2010 that affected the national grasslands near Lisbon, N.D.

Prosecutors said a Super Sprayers employee destroyed 197 western prairie fringed orchids that were growing in roadside ditches. The orchid is protected by the Endangered Species Act.

Defense attorney Rick Henderson said Friday Hanson never disputed the damage, but he disagreed about whether any plants had been killed, as federal prosecutors alleged.

That was the sticking point of an initial sentencing hearing in July, in which attorneys argued over how much restitution Hanson ought to pay.