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2 charged with filling in habitat

Two landscape workers were charged Tuesday with filling a gopher tortoise hole with concrete last week.

Brian Letendre, 19, of 5399 Berrien Ave. in Spring Hill and Kevin Richardson, 22, of 7729 Indian Trail Road, north of Weeki Wachee, each face up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine if found guilty of destroying a tortoise burrow.

They and two other men also face charges of illegal commercial dumping, which is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

The charges stem from a construction job last week by the Curb-A-Lawn landscaping company.

According to witnesses and investigators, Letendre and Richardson were part of a four-man crew that took extra concrete from 1475 Overland Drive, where they were installing curbs, to a vacant, wooded lot next to the job site.

Some concrete was dumped in an active tortoise burrow, investigators said.

It remains unclear whether any tortoises died.

Evidence of the crime came from neighbors who watched the men dump the concrete, said Rita Battista, assistant state attorney.

"Plus the fact that the (concrete) was there, and it was obviously gopher tortoise habitat," she said.

Other workers charged with illegal commercial dumping were Letendre's father, Paul, 45, same address, and Anthony Campaniolo, 31, of 5316 Kirkwood Ave. in Spring Hill.

Those charges come from allegations that the men dumped refuse on the lot without the permission of its owner, Battista said.

The decision by prosecutors to charge two men with filling the tortoise hole contradicts an account given last week by Kathleen Letendre, Curb-A-Lawn's owner.

She said only one worker was responsible. She declined to identify the worker.

The Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission receives a lot of reports about destroyed tortoise habitat, said Joe Johnson, a wildlife officer. But it is unusual for witnesses to document such incidents.

In this case, a couple across the street, John and Patrice Hook, took photos of the workers and reported the incident to the commission, he said.

"It's rare that we have citizens who really help like these people have," Johnson said.

A court date has not been set for the case.