Declaring fires set at a police station, an SUV dealership and a tree farm acts of terrorism, a federal judge Wednesday sentenced the first...
EUGENE, Ore. — Declaring fires set at a police station, an SUV dealership and a tree farm acts of terrorism, a federal judge Wednesday sentenced the first of 10 members of a radical environmental group to 13 years in prison.
U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken commended Stanislas Meyerhoff for having the courage to “do the right thing” by informing on his fellow arsonists after his arrest. But he declared his efforts to save the earth by setting fires were misguided and cowardly, and contributed to an unfair characterization of others working legally to protect the environment as radicals.
“It was your intent to scare and frighten other people through a very dangerous and psychological act — arson,” Aiken told Meyerhoff. “Your actions included elements of terrorism to achieve your goal.
“The fact that your actions were completely irrational doesn’t mitigate this. Nor does the fact that no one was hurt.”
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Meyerhoff, 29, has admitted to being a member of a Eugene cell of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) known as The Family, which was responsible for more than 20 arsons from 1996 through 2001 in five Western states that did $40 million in damage.
Meyerhoff was involved in fires at a Eugene police substation, a Eugene SUV dealership, an Oregon tree farm, federal wild-horse corrals in Wyoming and California, and a Vail, Colo., ski resort. He also helped topple a high-voltage transmission line tower in Oregon.
After a member of the cell, Jacob Ferguson, agreed to turn informant and wear a hidden recording device, Meyerhoff and five others were arrested, starting in December 2005. Soon after his arrest, Meyerhoff turned informant as well, which resulted in more arrests.
Defense attorney Terri Wood said Ferguson has a deal with the prosecution that involves one count of arson and no prison time.
Before sentencing, Meyerhoff denounced the ELF, saying its goals of promoting a public discussion about stopping practices that harm the earth actually cut off debate and harmed people.
“I was ignorant of history and economy and acted from a faulty and narrow vision as an ordinary bigot,” Meyerhoff read from his four-page handwritten statement, his voice breaking at times. “A million times over I apologize … to all of you hard-working business owners, employees, researchers, firemen, investigators, attorneys and all citizens whose property was destroyed, whose holidays were ruined, whose welfare was thwarted, and whose sleep was troubled.”
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Aiken said, Meyerhoff was eligible for 30 years to life in prison. However, prosecutors recommended reducing that to 15 years, eight months, based on his cooperation with investigators. Aiken further reduced that to 13 years, noting that Meyerhoff showed courage by naming names and opening himself to retribution.
Defense and prosecution lawyers declined comment after the sentencing.
Prior to sentencing, Wood asked for leniency, arguing that most of the fires were not acts of terrorism because they were set at businesses, not government facilities.
The prosecution countered that based on communiqués issued after the fires, the blazes were meant to retaliate against the U.S. Forest Service for allowing a Vail ski resort to expand into a national forest, the University of Washington for genetic-engineering research and the government for prosecuting radicals who set earlier fires at the SUV dealership.
“The communiqués are powerful, powerful evidence that the defendants and Mr. Meyerhoff intended to influence the conduct of government,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kirk Engdall. “It is our position that the terrorism enhancement clearly applies to Mr. Meyerhoff.”
Aiken rejected the argument that the ski-resort arson was terrorism, noting that the communiqué made no direct reference to the Forest Service.
But she declared that a fire set at a Eugene police substation was terrorism because it was a direct attack on government. The Romania Chevrolet SUV dealership arson was terrorism because the communiqué said it was revenge for sending arsonist Jeff Luers to prison for 22 years. And the Jefferson Poplar Farm arson was terrorism because the communiqué spoke of affecting pending legislation.