Federal prosecutors moved Tuesday (March 29) to dismiss their case against a 65-year-old woman facing prison time for damaging a wetland while building a Dubuque, Iowa, campground, but reserved the right to pursue it later.
Elaine Kelly pleaded guilty last week to a felony violation of the Clean Water Act, reluctantly acknowledging she damaged a wetland while building Hoot Owl Hollow Campground and RV Park in 2009 and 2010. But family members said she accepted a plea deal only to avoid an expensive trial she could not afford and a prison term that could be up to three years, the Green Bay (Wis.) Press Gazette reported.
After reading about the guilty plea that carried a recommended sentence of 8 to 14 months behind bars, environmental consultant and wetland expert Ray Kagel of Rigby, Idaho, said he contacted Kelly and urged her to hire a new attorney to fight a case he called an overreach. Kelly parted ways with attorney Webb Wassmer and hired Ray Scheetz, who filed a motion to withdraw Kelly’s guilty plea Sunday.
Citing the withdrawal of the plea, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed paperwork Tuesday dismissing the case without prejudice. That means they could choose to ask a grand jury to indict Kelly on similar charges in the future.
Peter Deegan, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, would not say whether prosecutors intend to continue pursuing the case against Kelly, a grandmother of 13 who family members say has been caught in a nightmarish bureaucratic web for nearly three years.
“It sounds like it’s going away for right now, but I don’t know what that means for the future,” Kelly said Tuesday.