Ec Professor Settles in Manure Theft Suit

Charges of larceny, trespassing dropped in exchange for $900

A Harvard economics professor who found himself in deep trouble over the alleged theft of a truckload of manure has agreed to pay a total of $900 in exchange for charges against him being dropped.

Gloucester District Court Judge Richard Mori dismissed charges of trespassing, larceny, and malicious destruction of property against Monrad Professor of Economics Martin L. Weitzman on Monday in relation to an April incident in which Weitzman was accused of trying to steal a truckload of manure from a Rockport, Mass., horse farm.

Weitzman agreed to pay restitution in the amount of $600 to 98-year-old farmer Charles L. “Charlie” Lane Sr. for stealing the truckload of manure, which has a market value of about $20. He also agreed to donate $300 to the Rockport Boy Scouts in lieu of performing community service.

As part of the settlement, Weitzman did not admit guilt in the case—but this did not bother the manure’s rightful owners.

“[My father] won’t care a hoot and a holler about all that. He’s just glad that it’s over,” said Lane’s son, Charles L. Lane Jr.

On April 1—Weitzman’s birthday—the tenured professor was detained while trying to take manure from the Lane farm. In that incident, Weitzman reportedly tried to offer $20, and then $40, for the truckload of manure, but was not allowed to leave the property until police arrived on the scene. The malicious destruction of property charge came from damage Weitzman’s tires left on the farm.

The Lanes accused Weitzman of habitual manure theft, pegging the estimated value of the manure they say he took over several years at $600. He has also been implicated in the theft of manure from public property in the town of Rockport.

An avid gardener, Weitzman had taken the manure to use as fertilizer. He grows flowers and produce and tends to a tsukiyama—or artificial hill—garden on two acres of land around his Gloucester home. He has argued that he received permission to take manure from a neighboring farm and took that as permission to take manure from other fields in Rockport.

The prosecutor in the case, Essex Assistant District Attorney Stephen Patten, was unhappy with the deal Weitzman cut, according to The Boston Globe. The Globe reported Tuesday that Patten believed Weitzman, as a professor at “one of the finest institutions in our nation,” should have admitted to taking the manure without permission.

Lane Jr. said he and his family did not share Patten’s disappointment.

“We don’t feel like that at all. You paid the $600. That’s all we ask for,” Lane Jr. said. “We’re not out for blood...It’s just fair and square, that’s all.”

Weitzman said he thinks the story has drawn more attention that it merited, but that his status as a Harvard professor may have much to do with the media scrutiny.

“This is a real, classical ‘man bites dog’ story,” Weitzman said. “This is a blue-collar kind of situation, so it’s highly incongruous, somehow, and that seems to have caught the public’s fancy in some degree.”

“You realize the extent to which this ‘Harvard’ thing [has] a lot of baggage attached,” Weitzman noted. “I don’t really understand what the hullabaloo was about.”

Weitzman described the $600 compensation as “way inflated” for a product he said many farmers pay to have taken away, and said he couldn’t fathom how Lane reached such an estimate.

Yet if the trial yielded a positive externality for the professor, it is that Weitzman won’t have to pony up in the future—he said that since the story started getting such attention, he has received several offers for free manure.

—Staff writer Samuel C. Scott can be reached at sscott@fas.harvard.edu.