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Three young men charged for stealing north Fargo man's special tree

Paul Vogel looks over the remains of a Colorado blue spruce that was cut down by vandals along 64th Avenue North in Cass County. Vogel and his father planted the tree 20 years ago. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO — It was four weeks before Christmas. Three young men equipped with a saw blade went out in north Fargo in the middle of the night and, like the Grinch, took a sentimental tree, newly filed court documents say.

Paul Vogel reported the theft, but took the law into his own hands.

"I had my suspicion of where it might be," he said. "When somebody does something like that to you, you feel really violated."

Vogel, 65, said he now has some closure since the three men were each charged Tuesday, March 27, in Cass County District Court with conspiracy to commit criminal mischief, a Class A misdemeanor.

Benjamin Shepherd, 20, and Brett Braseth, 19, of Fargo and Kyle Braaten, 19, of Portland, N.D., are all charged as co-conspirators by willfully damaging a tree belonging to Vogel and recklessly causing loss in excess of $2,000 or intentionally causing a loss more than $100.

The three men admitted to law enforcement that they cut the tree down Nov. 30 to be used as a Christmas tree at Shepherd's house, according to newly filed court documents.

Vogel spent the entire month of December searching for the Colorado Blue Spruce he planted with his late father more than 20 years ago. At almost 20 feet tall, the tree was near the front entrance of Vogel's north Fargo family farmstead, which was established in the 1880s.

Then, on New Year's Day, Vogel said he had "a real unbelievable piece of luck." While driving around North Dakota State University, he saw the tree being loaded into a truck.

"It's so incredible, the odds of that," he said. "I followed them through town looking for a place to dump it."

Though he lost the driver, he went to a site and found pieces of the tree that he shared with an NDSU lab to compare with tree rings left at his homestead. It was a match.

Vogel found what evidence he could, working closely with Deputy Jolene Fletcher, and the Cass County Sheriff's Office followed up. The office recommended in February that the state's attorney's office consider charges of criminal mischief.

Attorney Renata Selzer said Tuesday she decided there was a clear violation of the law and has requested the three men be summoned for later court appearances. So far, court documents only list an arraignment date for Shepherd on April 17.

In North Dakota, Class A misdemeanors carry a potential sentence of up to one year in jail and $2,000 in fines.

Kim Hyatt

Kim Hyatt is a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and a 2014 graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth. She started her newspaper career at the Owatonna People’s Press covering arts and education. In 2016, she received Minnesota Newspaper Association's Dave Pyle New Journalist Award and later that year she joined The Forum newsroom.

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