A developer who illegally filled 50 acres of wetlands in Maryland was sentenced June 17 to 21 months in prison and fined $1 million personally and $3 million through two companies he controls.

The case against James J. Wilson, 63, of Middleburg, Va., marks the sixth time nationally that an individual has been convicted on a criminal violation of a wetlands law, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane Barrett. The $3 million fine marks the largest fine ever imposed on a corporation in a federal wetlands violation case, she said.

In addition to the fines, the two companies - Interstate General and St. Charles Associates - were placed on probation for five years. As part of the terms of probation, the companies must implement a wetland remediation plan and develop an effective environmental compliance plan to prevent future violations of the law.

Wilson had been found guilty Feb. 19 by a federal jury on four felony counts of illegally destroying wetlands in violation of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. The violations, which began in 1988 and continued through 1993, related to four separate sites totaling about 50 acres, according to the EPA's Criminal Investigation Division. According to the EPA, the areas were identified as wetlands on the National Wetlands Inventory Map and on Charles County topographic maps before being destroyed.

In an emotional, 25-minute statement, Wilson recited what he described as a long commitment to the environment that began long before the state and federal governments passed laws to protect wetlands.

He said the federal government never notified him that he was building on lands that required a permit for development.

U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams agreed that Wilson "has been a pioneer in Charles County," but rejected Wilson's argument that he did not know that he was violating federal wetlands law.

According to evidence presented at the trial, the defendants received and ignored warnings from their own consultants that there were wetlands in St. Charles that could not be developed without federal permits. These warnings were repeated by other consultants in 1989 and 1990.

Wilson's lawyers contended that he and his two companies are undergoing serious financial difficulties and could face bankruptcy if the judge levied the $3 million fine recommended by federal prosecutors.

But the judge said the company has sufficient assets to come up with the money during the two years he allotted to