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William Huntress is both respected and despised, a real estate developer with a reputation for cutting down trees and in general having his way regardless of the cost.

Huntress may find his newest opponents -- federal prosecutors accusing him of defrauding the government and obstructing justice -- to be his toughest challenge yet.

A seven-count grand jury indictment announced Wednesday charges Huntress and two of his development companies with criminal contempt, making false statements and concealing facts.

The indictment also charges Huntress with violations of the federal Clean Water Act and accuses him of destroying wetlands on property he owns near Transit Road and Millersport Highway.

"It appears justice is catching up to Mr. Bill Huntress," said Ann Suchyna, one of Huntress' critics.

The charges against Huntress carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for each count, but, under federal sentencing guidelines, he would likely get a much shorter sentence if convicted.

Huntress could not be reached to comment Wednesday, but his attorney was quick to defend his actions at the Transit Road site.

"It's unfortunate," said Huntress attorney Paul J. Cambria Jr. "This is unjustified. This is not the usual EPA case I think of. He did not violate the Clean Water Act."

The charges center around Huntress' development of a 97-acre parcel of land at 10880 Transit Road in Amherst. Cambria said the allegations are based on Huntress' decision to bring top soil to the site so it could again be used as a farm.

The indictment claims Huntress knew the site was made up largely of federal wetlands when he bought it in 2006 and that he nevertheless hired contractors to clear the land for development.

The government also accuses him of building a 25-foot-wide gravel road through the wetlands and arranging for the dumping of fill material at the site.

"In essence, the indictment in this case accuses the three defendants of disregarding the laws created to protect the environment and obstructing the investigation into this conduct," U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr. said of Huntress and his companies.

email: pfairbanks@buffnews.com