Environmentalist Charged With Teaching Arson
02-22-06 at 5:18PM
SAN DIEGO (AP) - Federal prosecutors on Wednesday unsealed an indictment charging an environmental activist with teaching others how to start an arson fire.
Prosecutors said Rodney Coronado gave the lecture in 2003, hours after a $50 million fire destroyed a big apartment complex in the costliest act of ecoterrorism in U.S. history.
The indictment, however, does not link Coronado to that fire.
Coronado, 39, was arrested Wednesday in Tucson, Ariz., on a charge of distribution of information relating to explosives, destructive devices and weapons of mass destruction. He will be arraigned there Thursday.
Defense attorney R. Antonio Felix of Tucson, Ariz., did not return a message left seeking comment.
Coronado previously served four years in federal prison for a 1992 blaze at a Michigan animal research facility.
Daniel Dzwilewski, agent in charge of the San Diego FBI office, alleged that Coronado was a national leader of the radical Earth Liberation Front.
The 2003 fire destroyed a five-story, 206-unit apartment complex, an underground parking garage and a construction crane in the University City area of San Diego. No one was injured.
A 12-foot banner found at the scene read "If you build it, we will burn it" with the initials of the ELF. The group, which only communicates with the news media by e-mail, issued a brief statement in response to media inquiries, saying the banner "is a legitimate claim of responsibility by the Earth Liberation Front."
Coronado gave a talk on animal rights and militant environmental activism in San Diego 15 hours later. Three animal rights activists who attended the lecture were ordered jailed for contempt for their refusal to testify before a grand jury investigating the fire.
While he repeatedly insisted that he had no role in the arson, Coronado has said he sympathized with the arsonists. Describing himself as an unofficial ELF spokesman, Coronado told The Associated Press at the time that young activists are "doing the only thing they know to do and that is strike a match and draw a whole lot of attention to their dissatisfaction with protecting the environment."
Authorities said the charge on which Coronado was indicted has only been used four times since it was written in 1997. It carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
Coronado was previously sentenced to nearly five years in prison for a crime in which he said he did not participate: the 1992 firebombing of a Michigan State University laboratory and the offices of two animal researchers that caused $1.2 million in damage.
In December, a federal jury in Tucson, Ariz., convicted Coronado of illegally entering the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area to interfere with efforts to trap and relocate mountain lions following public sightings. He faces up to 7 1/2 years in prison when he's sentenced in March. That indictment called Coronado a member of Earth First