Prosecutors expand charges in ecoterrorism probe, including Vail fire
December 17, 2005
Federal prosecutors expanded charges against some of the six suspects accused of ecoterrorist attacks in the Northwest, with new indictments handed up against two in Oregon and new allegations against two in Arizona, including that one of them helped firebomb a ski resort in Vail.
The Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front, shadowy underground radical groups described by the FBI as domestic terrorists, took responsibility for all but one of the six attacks in Washington and Oregon between 1998 and 2001 that are the subject of indictments so far.
Targets included the offices of lumber mills in Glendale and Medford, Ore., a high-tension power line outside Bend, Ore., a car dealership and meat processing plant in Eugene, Ore., and a federal plant research facility in Olympia, Wash.
Though two people have now been named as suspects in the 1998 Vail firebombing, which caused $12 million in damages, no indictments have been released.
“We intend to continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute ecoterrorism here in Oregon,” U.S. Attorney Karin J. Immergut said Friday in a statement released in Portland, Ore. “This case demonstrates how effective collaborative law enforcement efforts are in combating ecoterrorism.”
In Eugene, Ore., a federal grand jury handed up new indictments against Kevin M. Tubbs, 36, of Springfield, Ore., and Chelsea D. Gerlach, 28, of Portland, Ore.
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Tubbs was indicted on arson charges alleging he helped firebomb Romania Truck Chevrolet in Eugene, Ore., on March 30, 2001, destroying 35 sport utility vehicles and causing $1 million in damages. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
Gerlach, named earlier this week as a suspect in the Vail ski resort arson, was indicted on charges alleging she served as a lookout in the firebombing of Childers Meat Co. in Eugene in 1999, and helped two other people set fires at Jefferson Poplar Farms, in Clatskanie, Ore., in 2001.
In Flagstaff, Ariz., FBI Special Agent Doug Linter testified in U.S. District Court that investigators suspect Prescott, Ariz., bookstore owner William C. Rodgers in arson attacks against the Vail ski resort, as well as wild horse corrals in Burns, Ore., and Rock Springs, Wyo.; the University of Washington Urban Horticultural Center in Seattle and a federal plant research lab in Olympia, Wash.
Rodgers was arrested last week on charges he was involved in the firebombing of a government wildlife lab outside Olympia, Wash.
In the first physical evidence disclosed in the case, the inventory of a six-hour search of Rodgers’ residence and bookstore listed boxes of suspected bomb-making materials such as timers and re-lighting birthday candles, three guns and two digital photos of nude, prepubescent girls stored on a compact disc.
Linter also reported a recorded conversation where Rodgers told an unknown acquaintance that he was “planning something big” involving some kind of arson after the end of his relationship with his girlfriend, Katie Nelson.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Lodge said in court that Sarah Kendall Harvey, also known as Kendall Tankersley, 28, of Flagstaff, Ariz., acted as the lookout for a fire set in 1998 at the offices of a now-defunct U.S. Forest Industries mill in Medford, Ore., for which she has been indicted. He added she is a suspect in other arsons in Humboldt County, Calif., where she was a college student, and was a member of the Earth Liberation Front.
A federal judge ordered Harvey held pending further proceedings in Oregon. An employee at Northern Arizona University, she has applied for medical school at the University of Arizona.
Tubbs and Gerlach were scheduled to be arraigned Monday in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Ore., on the new indictments. Stanislas Meyerhoff, 28, of Charlottesville, Va., who attended high school in Eugene with Gerlach and was indicted earlier in the tree farm firebombing and two other cases, was to appear for a status hearing.
Tubbs was held in Eugene, Ore., on a federal indictment out of Seattle charging him with firebombing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services lab in Olympia, Wash.
Authorities have not disclosed what evidence they collected to charge Tubbs with the dealership blaze. A few months after the fire, investigators told The Oregonian they had recovered a fingerprint.
Gerlach was held in Eugene on an indictment she helped topple a Bonneville Power Administration electrical transmission tower Dec. 30, 1999.
Federal defender Craig Weinerman, representing Gerlach, complained that authorities were accusing her of other firebombings without presenting any evidence, other than statements from unnamed informants facing possible prison terms for their own involvement.
“Someone is pointing the finger at her who was far more involved in this, and potentially has a motive to help himself or herself get less time,” Weinerman said.
Gerlach’s family issued a statement saying she had never been to Colorado, where the ski resort was firebombed, or spent enough time there to care about plans to expand the ski area into habitat for the endangered lynx, the reason cited by Earth Liberation Front in taking credit for the 1998 fire.
The letter to the Vail Daily newspaper in Colorado signed by Gerlach’s sister, Shasta Kearns Moore, said Gerlach was concerned about the environment, but believed only in peaceful action.
“As a family we are both disturbed and baffled by the charges brought against her,” the statement read. “The person we know and love is incapable of such acts.”
Also on Friday, a Canadian animal-rights militant who was arrested with Gerlach pleaded not guilty in federal court in Portland to immigration charges.
Darren Thurston, 35, was indicted on a charge of possessing two phony documents ” a green card, which allows permanent residence, and a Social Security card both bearing the name Kevin Gregory Barske.
Judge Donald Ashmanaskas set a trial date for Feb. 14 and ordered Thurston held as a flight risk.