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Green Scare article from September-October Earth First! Journal

This article is from the September-October 2006 issue of the Earth First! Journal.
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Six People Plead Guilty to Arsons and Conspiracy
The Green Scare Continues
by Civil Rights Outreach Committee

Background

On December 7, 2005, one of the largest roundups of environmental and animal liberation activists in American history began. Using the code name "Operation Backfire," the FBI arrested six people. (See EF!J issues Brigid, Eostar and Beltane 2006 for more background information.) Chelsea Gerlach, William Rodgers, Kendall Tankersley, Kevin Tubbs, Daniel McGowan and Stanislas Meyerhoff were arrested for allegedly taking part in a wide variety of actions the government attributes to the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF).

Within days of the first arrests, it was revealed that informants, including Jacob "Jake" Ferguson of Eugene, were the sole basis relied upon by the feds and grand jury in issuing the indictments. It was also revealed that Stanislas Meyerhoff had agreed to be a federal cooperating witness almost immediately upon arrest and interrogation.

On December 22, William "Avalon" Rodgers was found dead in his cell in Flagstaff, Arizona, from an apparent suicide.

At first, those arrested were indicted separately with certain individuals facing numerous trials for each separate alleged incident. On January 20, federal prosecutors, the head of the FBI, and US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales held a press conference announcing a sweeping 65-count indictment, including two conspiracy charges, against 11 individuals relating to 17 different incidents in Oregon, Washington and California. In addition to the six people arrested on December 7, the Oregon indictment also named Jonathan Paul, Suzanne Savoie, Joseph "Joe" Dibee, Rebecca Rubin and Josephine Sunshine Overaker.

The Oregon indictment charged certain defendants with arson, attempted arson, and using and carrying a destructive device. The destructive device charge, 18 USC 924(c), carries a 30-year mandatory sentence and a life sentence for a second conviction of the charge.

In the weeks that followed, five individuals were revealed as "confidential sources" for the government's case. Subsequently, on February 23, Nathan Block and Joyanna Zacher were arrested in Olympia and were charged with involvement in the 2001 Jefferson Poplar and Romania II arsons.

On March 15, the government released a superseding indictment that replaced all preexisting indictments. This giant conspiracy prosecution included Nathan and Joyanna with the other 11 indicted individuals.

On March 30, Briana Waters was arrested in connection with an alleged arson at the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture in 2001 and placed under house arrest. She is currently indicted in both Tacoma and Seattle for the same alleged crimes. Her trial is scheduled for May 7, 2007. She staunchly maintains her innocence to the charges and was recently released from house arrest.

On April 6, California issued its indictments in connection with the 2001 horse corral fire near Susanville. Justin Solondz was charged by the federal court in Sacramento, but is not in custody. Also indicted for the corral fire were Joe Dibee, Rebecca Rubin and Darren Thurston (Thurston's plea on this charge was integrated into his Oregon plea deal as a result of cooperation, the extent of which is not publicly known at this time, see below).

Updates

On May 10, Washington issued a superseding indictment. This indictment includes the destructive device charge, a 30-year mandatory sentence, for Waters. The indictment also added Solondz, Tubbs and Rodgers to the UW arson. Washington has agreed to waive prosecution of Tubb's as a result of his cooperation with the federal government. Other informants in this case include Jennifer "Jen" Kolar and ex-Earth First! Journal editor Lacey Phillabaum, both of who walk free as uncharged co-conspirators as of this writing.

On May 18, a federal grand jury indicted Chelsea, Stan, Josephine and Rebecca for alleged involvement in the 1998 arson of the Vail ski resort.

On June 28, the government arraigned Nathan, Joyanna, Daniel and Jonathan on a new 65-count superceding indictment. All four plead not-guilty. Trial for the four remaining non-cooperating defendants is currently scheduled to begin on October 31 in Eugene.

Plea Deals Aplenty

Without any notice to the codefendants or the public, on July 20 and 21, formal change of plea hearings were held in the Oregon court for Darren, Kevin, Kendall, Stan, Chelsea and Suzanne. These six pled guilty to a variety of conspiracy, arson and attempted arson charges—none of them pled to the destructive device charge used as a hammer by the feds in coercing these people to become informants. The US attorney's office recommended sentence for Stan is 188 months imprisonment for pleading guilty to 54 charges; Kevin, 168 months for 56 charges; Chelsea, 120 months for 18; Suzanne, 63 months for 15; Kendall, 51 months for three; and Darren, 37 months for two.

When he entered the courtroom, Stan waved and smiled at the federal prosecutors. They returned the smile and the wave. Stan, who displayed what appeared to be mental instability during the proceeding, was keen to point out that he "walked away from the ELF in 2003," as he mentioned during what was supposed to be an account of his educational history. The above terms of imprisonment are recommendations that the feds will make to the Court at the time of sentencing and are contingent upon these cooperating defendants continued full and complete cooperation for the rest of their lives. This term applies to ALL of the defendants who have pled out so far.

During this hearing, the government seemed especially keen on connecting the ELF and the ALF to broader environmental efforts and movements. The state stressed that Stan and other defendants allegedly attended an Earth First! party directly after performing a sabotage, and also that the Vail arson followed unsuccessful litigation and grassroots campaigns against ski resort development in the area. The government also made a point of stressing that these defendants used the term "direct action" in reference to the arson incidents. Heavy mention of William Rogers (Avalon) was made in connection to the Vail arson during both Chelsea and Stan's hearings. They both swore in court that William was solely responsible for the Vail arson.

At the behest of the federal government, Chelsea read a statement at the conclusion of her change of plea proceeding denouncing her actions.

For the first time, new allegations were disclosed at the change of plea hearings disclosing additional arsons that allegedly occurred in Phoenix, Arizona, and the eastern district of Michigan

Upon motion by the cooperating defendants' attorneys, all of the plea petitions, cooperation agreements, and even the transcripts of the public court hearing for all six, are sealed, making them unavailable for public scrutiny. The government announced that it would pursue upward enhancement of sentences for the six taking pleas, arguing that the federal terrorism enhancement guidelines apply to their sentences as well. This enhancement, normally only utilized in cases where human lives were lost in incidents such as 9/11, carries up to an additional 30 year sentence. The government indicated that the defendants were free to argue against the terrorism enhancement, however, it would appear that all of the defendants who entered pleas in July stipulated to the prosecution's "facts" underlying the plea petition. These "facts" included the verbatim definition of a "federal crime of terrorism," thereby reducing the amount of work the feds will have to do to convice a judge that the enhancement applies. The definition of terrorism read in open court by the prosecutors is: A crime calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct. Under this broad definition, historic acts of nonviolent civil disobedience could be construed as terrorism. It is confusing and troubling that these defendants would permit the feds to potentially brand them with this over-used and inappropriate label.

All remaining charges for those taking cooperation pleas, in Oregon and other jurisdictions, will be dropped if those taking pleas fully and completely cooperate with the government's terms. They all agreed to testify against others charged in the case and to cooperate with the government's ongoing investigation into similar crimes.

All six of the cooperating defendants are scheduled for formal sentencing hearings on December 14.

Lacey is expected to enter a plea in Seattle in exchange for her cooperation. It is unclear which of the many jurisdictions informant Jen will plea in as a result of her extensive cooperation with the feds. Numerous other people have been contacted and have voluntarily agreed to provide information to the federal government about these cases, their political ideologies and their associations,

Suzanne, Kendall, Daniel, Jonathan and Briana are all out on pre-trial release. McGowan is under strict house arrest. All other persons indicted in Oregon who have been located, are currently in custody.

Nathan, Joyanna, Daniel, Jonathan and Briana now face trial with several of their once co-defendants preparing to offer up dubious testimony against them, while the government raises the specter of "terrorism" over alleged property damage allegations in defense of the environment. Nathan, Joyanna and Daniel, face charges that carry a 30-year mandatory minimum sentence, and maximums of life plus 300 to 1,015 years. All remaining defendants also face a "terrorism enhancement" under federal sentencing guidelines which carries a maximum 30 year sentence.

Without the information provided by Jake, uncharged informants such as Jen and Lacey, as well as the parroted statements made by the cooperating defendants thus far, there would be no federal case. Jake and Stan have admitted to their participation in most of the alleged arsons, yet Jake remains free and without charges (and according to a Rolling Stone article, $50,000 richer). To date, no other hard evidence exists linking the defendants to the alleged charges. The snitch statements all vastly contradict each other and have changed and evolved as the government changes it's story. These informants will face cross examination at trial and vast amounts of resources are being utilized in defense of those defendants who continue to assert their innocence before a jury of their peers.

Misuse of Grand Juries

On March 21, Camilo Stephenson was subpoenaed to a Denver grand jury and questioned about the 1998 Vail ski resort fire. Jake Ferguson told the feds that Camillo would substantiate his story that attempted to rope in additional people. Camillo denied any knowledge of any of the incidents and was able to inform the jury as to Jake's reputation as a drug addict, thief, and untrustworthy individual.

Jeff Hogg and Burke Morris were subpoenaed to testify in front of federal grand juries on May 18, Jeff in Eugene and Burke in Denver. Jeff refused to testify before the grand jury and was held in contempt by Judge Michael Hogan and sent to jail. Jeff is still in and could remain in jail until the grand jury's expiration. (Write to Jeff Hogg #1065518, 101 W. 5th Ave., Eugene, OR 97401.) Burke answered limited questions asked by the Denver grand jury, questions about his personal life, but denied any knowledge of the incidents about which he was questioned. Burke also ended up in this position as a result of Jake Ferguson trying to use him to corroborate untruthful statements that Jake made to the feds.

On June 27, Jim Dawson of Olympia received a subpoena to appear before a grand jury in Seattle. His appearance has been postponed since he consented to be questioned by the FBI in lieu of his scheduled grand jury appearance. His partner, Heather Moore, also of Olympia, had earlier agreed to be voluntarily questioned by the feds regarding her community. The extent of their disclosures to the government is unknown at this time. As a result of their voluntary cooperation, additional subpoenas are possible.

The fact that the feds are continuing to subpoena people would normally lead one to believe that the government continues to search for additional defendants in these cases — it is either that, or a grave abuse of the grand jury system at work. In the Oregon court hearing on June 28, Jonathan's attorney told the court that he was putting the government on notice that he was deeply concerned with the unlawful abuses of the grand jury system by the government. Grand juries are intended only to decide whether or not to bring indictments. In this case grand juries are being used to gather evidence to prepare for trial, an illegal use of the grand jury.

Craig Rosebraugh is subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury in Eugene August 17.

Jeff Hogg is scheduled for a Grumbles hearing on August 15th seeking his release from jail. He continues to argue that no amount of jail will coerce him into testifying to the grand jury based upon his strongly held beliefs. The government's response to his motion spends the majority of it's pages attempting to malign the Civil Liberties Defense Center and its attorney, somehow inferring that the public education events that the CLDC provides on grand juries and federal criminal prosecutions is attempting to obstruct justice. Apparently the feds now believe that free speech and an educated public are the latest threats to their police state and campaign of political repression.

The Latest

On August 7, Nathan and Joyanna were present for a status hearing on the upcoming trial. Also in attendance were Daniel's lawyers, as well as Jonathan's via phone. The first order of business was a continuance for the upcoming discovery hearing in which defendants' attorneys will ask for the court to order the release of surveillance evidence in discovery. The US attorney's office has been dancing around the release of this surveillance, which could go back many years. (What do they have to hide? Unwarranted wiretaps? Agents provacatuers? We'll see...)

That hearing was postponed until August 22nd at 9:30 a.m. with a possible continuance to September 6 at 10;30 am. due to a possible conflict of scheduling with one of the defense attorneys.

Next, one of Daniel's lawyers requested that discovery released to defense last week be viewable by defendants without a lawyer present. There is currently an order in place that only allows the defendants to view this discovery (the testimony of cooperating defendants) in the presence of their lawyers. The US attorney, Kirk Engdall, said the order is in place because the discussion or distribution of this discovery could "intensify the security risk" of cooperating defendants. A discussion ensued in which Jonathan's attorney made suggestions about ways in which copies of this discovery could be given to defendants to make duplication impossible. The US attorney's office did not feel any of the suggestions would ensure the security of the documents. Engdall asked that a decision on the issue be delayed until both sides could agree on a way to protect the confidentiality of the discovery. A date was set, August 22 at 9:30 am, for a hearing on the issue.

Then Engdall proposed a date be set for motion to continue the trial to a later date, since the US attorney''s office would need time to subpoena witnesses from five federal districts to testify at trial. He stated it seemed all parties would want an extension of the original October 31 trial date. That issue will also be heard on August 22.

The government continues to monitor and scrutinize on-line sources such as indy media sites. Many of the court filings include voluminous pages printed from the internet comment sections, personal email communications, and other documents that make it obvious that the government continues to spy on political groups and their activities. There is nothing illegal about doing prisoner support or discussing current events, but the fed continue to manipulate and misconstrue these communications to their own benefit. Please think of this before you write and post on the internet.

Support Information

To stay informed about the latest goings on related to the Green Scare, visit cldc.org,  http://portland.indymedia.org/en/topic/greenscare/ and future issues of the EF!J.

Don't forget to write to and support the non-cooperating defendants and talk to your friends and neighbors about the Green Scare cases.

If anyone has information they are willing to share on any of the cooperating witnesses, background, history, etc., to help in the defense of the non-cooperating defendants, please contact attorney Lauren Regan at  lregan@cldc.org. Your opinion or anecdote could save a brave person many years in jail.

The Civil Rights Outreach Committee (CROC) is a media working group that has taken on the task of monitoring the mainstream press surrounding the Green Scare, producing our own pro-active media, and assisting the defendants in their attempt to get a fair trial through outreach to media outlets, NGOs and members of the public. To contact CROC or to make a donation to our work, write to  civilrightsoutreach@gmail.com.

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Anon 21.Sep.2006 02:13

Anon

"For the first time, new allegations were disclosed at the change of plea hearings disclosing additional arsons that allegedly occurred in Phoenix, Arizona, and the eastern district of Michigan. "

Does anyone know what specific actions this refers to?

Not sure... 23.Sep.2006 10:24

Gumby Cascadia

The other actions I noted that were mentioned in the hearings were Pima Canyon Estates in Phoenix; and Rock Springs, Wyoming wild horse corral. (These were mentioned in Kevin Tubbs' deal). I didn't note anything from Michigan...