Pleas expected in Two Elk arson
EUGENE, Ore. ” Chelsea Gerlach and Stanislaus Meyerhoff agreed Friday to plead guilty to setting the fire that destroyed Vail Mountain’s Two Elk Lodge in 1998.
Her voice breaking with tears, Gerlach read a statement in court apologizing for her actions, saying she left the group after realizing it was counterproductive.
“These acts were motivated by a deep sense of despair and anger at the deteriorating state of the global environment and the escalating inequities within society.” Gerlach said, her mother and sister listening in court. “But I realized years ago this was not an effective or appropriate way to effect positive change. I now know that it is better to act from love than from anger, better to create than destroy and better to plant gardens than to burn down buildings.”
The two agreed to plead guilty once the indictments are transferred from Colorado to Oregon.
Along with one other person, Gerlach and Meyerhoff pleaded guilty Friday to being part of an ecoterrorist cell that planted fire bombs around the West trying to stop logging, wild horse roundups, genetic engineering of plants and sport utility vehicles sales.
U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken accepted guilty pleas from Gerlach, 29, a Portland disc jockey and girlfriend of one of the defendants who pleaded guilty Thursday; Meyerhoff, 29, a high school classmate of Gerlach in Eugene lately attending college in Virginia; and Susanne Savoie, 29, of Applegate, who has been working at a group home for the developmentally disabled in Ashland.
The pleas in U.S. District Court brought to six the number of people indicted on conspiracy and arson charges who have agreed to cooperate with the investigation into 16 attacks claimed by the shadowy Earth Liberation Front and animal Liberation Front from 1996 to 2001 that did more than $20 million in damage in Oregon, Washington, California, Wyoming and Colorado.
Three others pleaded guilty Thursday, three are fugitives, and four are scheduled to go on trial Oct. 31. William C. Rodgers, described as the leader of the cell, committed suicide in jail in Arizona just before he was to be sent to Oregon to face charges.
In pleading guilty, the three admitted they were part of the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front ” characterized by the FBI as the nation’s top domestic terrorism threat ” and tried to intimidate and coerce federal agencies, private businesses and the public through sabotage and mass destruction.
Meyerhoff said in court that he “walked away from ELF” in 2001 to attend college and issued an apology through his lawyers.
All six entering guilty pleas admitted to taking part in some of the individual arsons, as well as being part of a conspiracy calling itself “The Family,” which gathered for “Book Club” meetings where they practiced scouting out targets, making fire bombs and sending coded messages. When they undertook an attack, they dressed in black clothing, masks and gloves, and kept in touch with each other with radios with ear pieces.
Meyerhoff and Gerlach both admitted to setting fire to the Childers meat packing plant in Eugene in 1999, the Boise Cascade office in Monmouth in 1999, toppling a high-tension power line outside Bend to disrupt power supplies on the eve of the new millenium, firebombing a Eugene police substation in 2000, and setting fire to the Romania Chevrolet Truck Center in Eugene and the Jefferson Poplar Farm in Clatskanie in 2001.
Meyerhoff and Savoie both admitted setting fire to Superior Lumber Co. in Glendale in 2001. Savoie also pleaded guilty to setting fire to the tree farm.
The prosecution recommended sentences of 15 years for Meyerhoff, 10 for Gerlach, and five years for Savoie, who remained free on bail.