Three plead guilty in string of firebombings |

Three plead guilty in string of firebombings

Darren Todd Thurston, left, and Kevin M. Tubbs acknowledge friends as they are lead from United States Federal Court in Eugene, Ore., after entering pleas to a range of charges stemming from a string of environmentally motivated arsons between 1996 and 2001. (AP Photo/The Register-Guard, Chris Pietsch) ** MAGS OUT, NO SALES **

GRANTS PASS, Ore. – Three people pleaded guilty Thursday to charges they were part of an ecoterrorism cell calling itself “The Family” that firebombed Two Elk Lodge on Vail Mountain, along with ranger stations, wild horse corrals and lumber mill offices around the West.As part of the plea agreement, the three agreed to cooperate in the continuing investigation of 10 others who are scheduled to go on trial Oct. 31 in U.S. District Court in Eugene for a series of firebombings around the Northwest from 1996 to 2001, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.”This is a substantial step in resolution of this case and successful prosecution of the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front in these crimes,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Peifer from Eugene. The two shadowy groups claimed responsibility for the attacks at the time.In pleading guilty, the three admitted they were part of the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front, and tried to intimidate and coerce federal agencies, private businesses and the public through sabotage and mass destruction, court records said. A total of 16 attacks were undertaken in Washington, Oregon, California, Wyoming and Colorado, causing more than $20 million in damage.U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken in Eugene accepted guilty pleas from Kevin Tubbs, 37, of Springfield, Ore.; Kendall Tankersley, 29, of Flagstaff, Ariz., and Darren T. Thurston, 36, a Canadian lately living in Portland, Ore., on charges of criminal conspiracy and related arson counts.

Tubbs was charged in January with conspiracy to commit arson in the Two Elk fire. None of the three pleaded guilty to that arson.They are scheduled for sentencing Dec. 14, after completion of the trial of the others. Prosecutors are recommending 14 years in prison for Tubbs, four years for Tankersley and three years for Thurston. More defendants were expected to plead guilty Friday, the Justice Department said.A chain of destructionThough not personally involved in all the firebombings undertaken by the cell, the three admitted that the group was responsible for attacks that started in 1996 with two ranger stations on the Willamette National Forest outside Eugene, where Earth Liberation Front graffiti was painted, and included the 1998 firebombing of the restaurant on Vail Mountain.While setting a fire, they often wore dark clothing, gloves and masks, which they destroyed afterward, according to court records. The bombs were five-gallon buckets filled with fuel and set off with kitchen timers, matches, sponges and model rocket igniters. One time they hid the firebombs in Christmas wrapping paper while driving to a target.

In 1997 the group hit a horse slaughterhouse in Redmond and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management wild horse corrals in Burns.In 1998 the cell branched out of Oregon to hit The Two Elk Lodge, federal plant inspection facilities in Olympia, Wash., and wild horse corrals in Rock Springs, Wyo. They also hit a lumber mill office in Medford.In 1999 the group stayed in Oregon, firebombing a meat packing plant in Eugene, a lumber company office in Monmouth, and toppling a powerline tower near Bend.Starting in 2000, the group assembled in Eugene and Sisters in Oregon, Tucson, Ariz., and Santa Cruz, Calif., for what they called “Book Club” meetings to practice picking locks, computer security, coded messages, and making firebombs that included a signature ignition device known as a Cat’s Cradle, according to court documents. The only target that year was a police substation in Eugene,The last year, 2001, the group hit a lumber mill office in Glendale, a tree farm in Clatskanie, a truck dealer in Eugene, a University of Washington horticulture center in Seattle and wild horse corrals in Litchfield, Calif.The investigation of the case went nowhere for years, with little evidence but melted five-gallon buckets that had been filled with diesel.

But after a task force was formed with 30 investigators taking a “Cold Case” approach, they were able to find an informant, who, with a hidden tape recorder, looked up old friends from the group and talked to them about the past crimes, according to court records and testimony. Authorities would not name the informant, but court records named Jacob Jeremiah Ferguson as an unindicted coconspirator.Federal agents arrested six people in December. As time went on, the number of unnamed informants in court records grew to four. The sweep of the indictments grew also, until January, when 11 people were indicted in a wide-ranging conspiracy. Two others were indicted later.Tubbs, who worked in an adult store in Springfield and was known by the nickname “Dog,” pleaded guilty to firebombing one of the ranger stations, the horse slaughterhouse, the wild horse corrals in Burns, a lumber mill offices in Medford and Glendale, a meat packing plant in Eugene, a police substation in Eugene, and the tree farm.Thurston, an animal-rights activist from Canada who was living with another defendant in the Vail arson, Chelsea Gerlach, in Portland when they were arrested, pleaded guilty to being part of the conspiracy, and acknowledged taking part in setting fire to BLM horse corrals in Susanville, Calif., in 2001. He will enter a guilty plea to that charge after being transferred out of Oregon, authorities said. Vail, Colorado

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