July 21, 2006

Mail Tribune

Two people pleaded guilty Thursday to firebombing two Southern Oregon timber companies in what they admitted was part of the Earth Liberation Front's conspiracy to use violence and sabotage to retaliate against society on behalf of the environment.
Kevin Tubbs, 37, and Kendall Tankersley, 29, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Eugene for their parts in the December 1998 attempted arson and arson of the now-defunct U.S. Forest Industries Inc. office on Whittle Avenue in Medford.
Tubbs also pleaded guilty to an arson charge stemming from the January 2001 firebombing of Superior Lumber Co. in Glendale.
At the time, the ELF claimed responsibility for the arsons as retaliation over what the group considered to be damaging logging practices and as a warning toward others.
Also pleading guilty Thursday to being part of the ELF's criminal conspiracy was Darren Todd Thurston, 36.
Thursday's pleas were the first involving 13 defendants accused of being part of a "cell" of ELF activists involved in firebombings causing $27.8 million in damage in Oregon, Washington, California, Wyoming and Colorado.
The government considers both the ELF and Animal Liberation Front to be terror groups. The groups have claimed responsibility for arsons in response to the government's sale of wild burros as well as to development in wildlife habitat, research involving hybrid trees, logging of forests and other issues.
As part of the plea, the three defendants all acknowledged in court that they and their group used "force, violence, sabotage, mass destruction, intimidation and coercion" to influence and "to retaliate against government and private businesses" such as U.S. Forest Industries.
"This is a substantial step in the resolution of this case and the gradual resolution of the crimes committed by these underground groups over the years," Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Peifer said Thursday.
Scheduled to enter a plea today in federal court is Suzanne Savoie, a 29-year-old Applegate Valley woman indicted on two counts of conspiracy to commit arson and one count of arson involving the Superior Lumber Co. office fire, set Jan. 2, 2001.
Peifer declined to discuss any plea agreements until they are signed in court.
Jonathan Christopher Mark Paul, 40, of the Greensprings, faces arson and conspiracy charges for his alleged role in the 1997 firebombing of a Redmond horsemeat packing plant.
He and two other defendants are scheduled to go to trial Oct. 31.
Three defendants remain fugitives.
Tubbs, who worked at the Castle Superstore in Springfield and was active in animal-rights causes, pleaded guilty Thursday to seven arson charges and one attempted arson charge &

8212; the botched Dec. 22 attempted firebombing of U.S. Forest Industries &

8212; as well as being part of the ELF's criminal conspiracy.
He was originally indicted on a more than a dozen arson, attempted arson and conspiracy charges involving 13 fires attributed to this ELF cell.
Tankersley, who is also known as Sarah Kendall Harvey, pleaded guilty to the arson and attempted arson of U.S. Forest Industries as well as to the conspiracy.
As part of a lengthy plea agreement read Thursday in court, federal prosecutors have agreed to recommend a 14-year sentence for Tubbs and a 51-month sentence for Tankersley.
Thurston pleaded guilty to the conspiracy as well as his role in the October 2001 arson at a Bureau of Land Management wild horse and burro facility in Susanville, Calif. In his case, prosecutors will recommend a 37-month sentence.
The trio also agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in the cases against other co-conspirators, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken accepted the pleas and set sentencing for Dec. 14.
Tubbs and Thurston were returned to the Lane County Jail, where they remain in custody. Tankersley remained free on bail.
After the plea agreements and descriptions of the crimes were read in court Thursday, Aiken ordered them sealed at a defense attorney's request.
Details read in court included prosecutors' description of how Tubbs, Tankersley, indicted fugitive Rebecca Rubin and unindicted co-conspirator Jacob Ferguson rode Dec. 22 in a van driven by Tubbs to Medford with five-gallon buckets filled with fuel and placed in black bags.
Armed with a two-way radio, Tankersley hid in a Crater Lake Highway ditch as a look-out while the buckets were placed at the U.S. Forest Industries building, which was at the corner of Whittle Avenue and Sky Park Drive, prosecutors read in court.
The fuel failed to ignite, and Tankersley returned five days later to discover that the buckets remained where they were placed.
She met Ferguson in Ashland, and the pair bought parts for a new time-release ignition mechanism. They returned to U.S. Forest Industries the night of Dec. 27, with Tankersley acting as lookout while Ferguson set the devices on the buckets.
As the pair drove toward Ashland, they listened to a police scanner and heard dispatches to the blaze. Two days later, Tankersley went to Tubbs' residence, where Tubbs and Ferguson showed her the "communique" that was then sent to the Mail Tribune and other news outlets Jan. 16 claiming responsibility for the fire.
"This action is payback and it is a warning to all others responsible," the letter stated. "We do not sleep and we won't quit. For the future generations, we will fight back."
Outside of the courtroom, Peifer declined to discuss Ferguson or his role in the case.
Reach reporter at 776-4470, or e-mail .