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Oregon Eco-Sabotage Cases: Government Informant Expected to Receive Minimal Sentence

Eugene, OR - On Friday, October 26, at 1:30 pm in Eugene's federal court, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken will sentence Jacob "Jake" Ferguson, the government's lead informant in the Oregon "Operation Backfire" cases. Ferguson is a self-admitted arsonist who participated in setting over a dozen fires. Ferguson is scheduled to enter a change of plea to only one charge of arson and sentencing will follow. The government is recommending that Ferguson be sentenced to no jail time at all, no financial fines or restitution, but simply to serve a brief period of probation. Judge Aiken previously sentenced other defendants in these cases to between three and 13 years in federal prison. Many of the other defendants were also given a "terrorism enhancement," even though none of the arsons resulted in any injuries or loss of life.
For Immediate Release: October 25, 2007
Contact: Lauren Regan, Civil Liberties Defense Center, 541-687-9180

Civil Rights Outreach Committee

Final Sentencing in Oregon Eco-Sabotage Cases
Government Informant and Most Persistent Arsonist Expected to Receive Minimal Sentence

Eugene, OR - On Friday, October 26, at 1:30 pm in Eugene's federal court, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken will sentence Jacob "Jake" Ferguson, the government's lead informant in the Oregon "Operation Backfire" cases. Ferguson is a self-admitted arsonist who participated in setting over a dozen fires. Ferguson is scheduled to enter a change of plea to only one charge of arson and sentencing will follow. The government is recommending that Ferguson be sentenced to no jail time at all, no financial fines or restitution, but simply to serve a brief period of probation. Judge Aiken previously sentenced other defendants in these cases to between three and 13 years in federal prison. Many of the other defendants were also given a "terrorism enhancement," even though none of the arsons resulted in any injuries or loss of life.

In the previous cases, the federal government revealed that Ferguson was a major planner and participant in 16 arsons and other acts of sabotage. In a deal worked out with the government, Ferguson is being charged with one count of arson and is expected to receive only probation, no jail or prison time. Instead, Ferguson is believed to receive approximately $150,000 for his informant work for the government, though government sources rarely if ever divulge what they actually paid their informants.

"Instead of focusing on bringing solid prosecutions of actual terrorists that want to kill Americans, the U.S. government has focused instead on prosecuting enviro-saboteurs that were trying to highlight the need for urgent action to address planetary environmental emergencies, and whose actions injured not one person," said Alejandro Queral, executive director of the Portland-based Northwest Constitutional Rights Center.

The government has consistently tried to punish these crimes differently for political reasons at a significant cost to our civil liberties and constitutional protections. Soon after indictments were made public, then-U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales issued statements that those charged of environmentally motivated sabotage were "terrorists." No other arson crimes have resulted in the federal government labeling the defendants as federal terrorists even in cases where human life was lost unlike in any of the "Green Scare" cases. In comparison, the average sentences for greed-motivated or vindictive arsons are much shorter. Recently a woman in Lane County who viciously destroyed and then burned her neighbor's house to the ground was given only 60 days in jail.

Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Eugene is concerned about the lessons that the federal government is teaching citizens in this case. "If you commit dozens of crimes, and are a serious criminal, become a federal informant, blame others for your crimes even if the information you provide turns out to be completely false and the justice system will not only let you go without punishment, but will pay you in tax dollars for your crimes."

Anyone concerned with civil liberties and justice should be scrutinizing the government's motivations and actions in thsse cases.