East Bay real estate developer James Tong, 70, has pleaded guilty in federal court in Oakland to violating the U.S. Endangered Species Act by grading a Dublin development in a way that harmed the habitat of a threatened species.
Tong entered the plea before U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar on Jan. 8 and will be sentenced by Tigar on March 11.
The species harmed by the grading of Dublin Ranch North, a 157-acre project, was the California tiger salamander, an 8-inch amphibian listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Acting U.S. Attorney Brian Stretch said that a result of the federal plea and a separate plea in Alameda County Superior Court in
December, Tong will pay about $1 million to state, county and nonprofit wildlife agencies and provide a 107-acre conservation easement in Contra Costa County.
In the Alameda County case, Tong pleaded no contest in Superior Court on Dec. 18 to a charge of submitting fraudulent documents to the city of Dublin that purported to show he had paid $3.2 million to a conservation preserve to mitigate effects on wildlife caused by the ranch project.
Stetch said that in Tong's federal court plea, Tong admitted that he directed the grading activities at Dublin Ranch North without the city's required mitigation measures and without authorization from wildlife officials. The grading caused sediment to run off into a pond on the adjoining property that provided habitat for the salamander.
Tong's Dublin-based company, Wildlife Management LCC, pleaded guilty during the Jan. 8 federal court hearing to a charge of committing securities fraud by forging the two documents that showed the supposed $3.2 million payment to a Livermore Valley preserve known as the Ohlone Preserve Conservation Bank.
Stretch said that in the federal and state cases together, Tong has agreed to pay $350,000 to the Alameda County Fish and Game Commission, $175,000 to the Contra Costa County Fish and Wildlife Propagation Fund, and $300,000 to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Wildlife Management LLC will pay $175,000 to the nonprofit National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
The conservation easement Tong will provide will prohibit future development on a property known as the Brown Ranch, which contains habitat for endangered species. Tong has also put $330,000 into an account for management of the site, Stretch said.