More charges in fire at corral
By Jane Braxton Little -- Bee Correspondent
Published 2:15 am PDT Friday, April 7, 2006
Story appeared in Metro section, Page B1
Four defendants in an eco-terrorism case were charged Thursday with arson, conspiracy to commit arson and use of a destructive device in the 2001 firebombing of a Bureau of Land Management wild horse corral near Susanville.
The three-count indictment by a federal grand jury names Joseph Dibee, 38; Rebecca Rubin, 32; Darren Thurston, 36; and Justin Solondz, 26. Dibee, Rubin and Solondz are all fugitives, said U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott and FBI Special Agent in Charge Drew Parenti, who announced the charges Thursday.
Thurston is in custody in Oregon.
The blaze on Oct. 15, 2001, burned a federal barn and 250 tons of hay at the Litchfield facility 21 miles southeast of Susanville, one of 11 facilities scattered around the West to hold horses and burros removed from the range and put up for adoption under the Wild Burro and Horse Act.
None of the 700 wild horses and burros at the facility was injured.
The fire, which caused $85,000 in damage, was started by one of the four incendiary devices investigators found at the scene, said Scott. Other devices were found in an adjacent hay barn, on the front porch of the BLM office and under the car of a BLM wrangler.
Only the first device ignited, Scott said.
Two weeks after the Litchfield fire, a statement from Earth Liberation Front, a radical environmental movement, claimed responsibility for the acts done "in opposition to the BLM's continued war against the Earth."
The federal investigation spanning more than four years demonstrates the determination of the FBI and its partners to bring eco-terrorists to justice, Scott said.
"Those who would commit acts of terror, such as arson, in the name of the Earth Liberation Front, and the Animal Liberation Front should be on notice: Federal law enforcement will do everything in its capacity to track you down and hold you accountable for your dangerous behavior," he said.
The indictments Thursday bring to 11 the total number of defendants affiliated with ELF or ALF charged in three separate cases in the past year, Scott said.
Three of four Placer County residents charged with crimes linked to an eco-terrorist group pleaded guilty in October in Sacramento federal court for their roles in attempts to burn buildings - all under construction. Between December 2004 and February 2005, investigators found incendiary devices at residences in Lincoln, firebombs at a commercial building in Auburn and incendiary devices in apartment buildings in the Amador County town of Sutter Creek.
Ryan Daniel Lewis, 21, identified in court documents as a follower of the ELF, pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted arson and one count of arson. He admitted planting the devices in Lincoln, Auburn, and Sutter Creek.
No one was injured in the incidents, although the Sutter Creek fire resulted in $50,000 in property damage.
Sisters Eva Rose Holland, 25, and Lili Marie Holland, 20, who both pleaded guilty to one count of attempted arson, admitted that Lewis had urged them to participate in planting incendiary devices at a housing development in Lincoln.
The fourth defendant, Jeremiah Dean Colcleasure, 21, is fighting the charges against him.
In the third recent eco-terrorism case, Eric Taylor McDavid, 28; Zachary O. Jenson, 20; and Lauren Weiner, 20, are accused of plotting to blow up a U.S. Forest Service genetics lab in Placerville, the Nimbus Dam and nearby fish hatchery in Rancho Cordova, and cellular telephone towers and electric power stations in unspecified locations.
All three pleaded not guilty after their Jan. 13 arrest in an Auburn shopping center parking lot.
Weiner was released in February to the custody of her mother on a $1.2 million bond. McDavid and Jenson are being held without bail.
Three of the defendants named Thursday in the wild horse barn arson case - Dibee, Rubin and Thurston - were previously indicted on conspiracy charges by the U.S. attorney's office in Oregon.
The additional charges filed by Scott increase the severity of the charges and the potential penalties.
If convicted of conspiracy to commit arson and arson, Dibee, Rubin, Thurston and Solondz would face between five and 20 years in prison, Scott said. The penalty for use of a destructive device during a crime of violence is 30 years.
In addition to the FBI, the investigation was conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force, Scott said.
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