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Mobtown Beat

Baltimore County Drops Charges Against Would-Be Cockeysville Railroader

Typically, criminal defendants whose charges are dropped would be happy with the outcome, but not James Riffin. “I wanted a trial,” Riffin says of the Baltimore County case against him, charging him with, among other crimes, polluting Loch Raven Reservoir, malicious property destruction, abandoning a vehicle, and stealing dirt (“Down by Law,” Mobtown Beat, Sept. 11).

Prosecutors “absolutely did not want to try to case,” Riffin explains, and on Nov. 20, they formally “nol prossed” the charges, depriving Riffin of the opportunity to put on evidence of his innocence. “They knew they were going to lose,” Riffin says.

The charges, filed in June, stemmed from Riffin’s activities at his former distillery complex in Cockeysville, where he has long aspired to base his still-unrealized railroading operation (“Train Wreck,” Feature, Oct. 10, 2007). Riffin says his efforts to comply with a civil-court order that he remove dirt, rocks, and equipment he’d placed on the property over the years, as he’d attempted to establish his railroading operations, prompted the criminal charges. He was prepared to mount a rigorous defense, he says, using a surveyor and a title lawyer to show that all the activities occurred on his own property, not his neighbor’s—the City of Baltimore, which owns land adjacent to Riffin’s that is part of its water-quality management area for the reservoir.

Flowing next to Riffin’s property is Beaver Dam Run, a reservoir tributary, and Riffin’s stewardship of the property—which he contends is subject only to federal railroading laws and is therefore exempt from state and local environmental ordinances—has long made him a target of regulatory enforcement. One of his many legal tussles with the authorities landed him, briefly, in 2008, in the clink for contempt of court (“Whistle Stop,” Mobtown Beat, July 2, 2008).

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