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Man Claims Role in SUV Firebombings

A self-described member of the Earth Liberation Front says he took part in Hummer vandalism

September 18, 2003|Jessica Garrison, Jia-Rui Chong and Greg Krikorian | Times Staff Writers

A man claiming membership in the Earth Liberation Front has told The Times that he helped firebomb a San Gabriel Valley car dealership and vandalize three others last month and said the Pomona man arrested by the FBI last week had nothing to do with the crimes.

Communicating via three e-mails and in two telephone interviews over the last three days, the man provided details of the attack that authorities said were known only by investigators and those involved in the incidents. He refused to give his name, say where he lives or agree to be interviewed in person.

The caller said that he and others vandalized and set fire to Hummers and other SUVs Aug. 22 to draw attention to pollution caused by the vehicles. The ELF is a loose association of militant environmentalists that has taken responsibility for vandalism across the country costing millions of dollars.

"Even if this does turn many people off, it gets many people talking and debating the issues. This is all we really want," he wrote in an e-mail Tuesday. He described himself as a high school dropout with a passion for math as well as Greek and Roman history. He gave his age as between 20 and 25.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday September 19, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 61 words Type of Material: Correction
SUV firebombings -- A headline in Thursday's California section incorrectly characterized a man who claimed a role in the firebombings of sport utility vehicles as an "environmental activist." He described himself as a member of the militant environmentalist group Earth Liberation Front, but because he made the claims anonymously via e-mail and telephone, his identity and affiliations have not been confirmed.

The caller said he contacted The Times on Monday by e-mail to make sure that Josh Connole was "not unfairly convicted." Connole, 25, an employee at a solar panel firm and an active antiwar protester, was released later Monday after authorities said they did not have enough evidence to charge him with last month's vandalism and arson fires that caused more than $1 million in damage.

Connole, who has denied any involvement or knowledge of the attacks, remains a suspect, according to West Covina police.

The FBI's Los Angeles office, which is leading a federal and local task force in the case, had no comment about the caller's claim of responsibility. "We are not going to discuss evidence in the case," said spokeswoman Cheryl Mimura. "But if this individual believes he has information about these incidents, we would ask that he come forward and contact the FBI."

Law enforcement sources, however, said details of the attacks match previously unreported evidence. Details obtained from the man in the telephone interviews include:

* A math formula -- Euler's Theorem -- was spray painted on one of the SUVs as a way of distinguishing the participants' work. "We thought it would be nice to have something a little kooky just in case this happened," he said, adding that he finds the formula "beautiful."

* Corona beer bottles were used for most of the Molotov cocktails, he said.

* Only the side windows of the Hummers were smashed because the windshields are shatter resistant. He and the others "tried to break through the front window," he said. "It turned out to be too difficult."

* Red, white and blue spray paint was used to vandalize the vehicles. "Patriotic colors," he said. "The cheapest possible brand." The nozzle broke off the white spray paint, he said, so mostly red and blue were used.

The caller also said he misspelled the word American -- accidentally writing "Ae, and then the 'e' was crossed out and I wrote the 'm' over the 'e' " -- when spray painting "Fat Lazy American Pigs" on one of the SUVs.

Authorities are skeptical of the caller's claim that he does not know Connole and speculated that the man may be trying to shield Connole and throw investigators off the track, according to one source close to the investigation.

"I did it," the caller said Tuesday night. He claimed he was calling from a pay phone in Los Angeles County and identified himself as Tony Marsden, but said that is not his real name.

His words were interrupted during the roughly half-hour conversation by whistles and clanks of passing trains. The caller said he had never heard of Connole before reading about his arrest in the newspaper.

The man said he contacted The Times after consulting with accomplices because "we all agreed that it was necessary.... Initially for the sake of rescuing Josh, although he's out now, but more importantly to try and get some of the message across, and hopefully also to bring more people to our cause."

The caller said he was willing to provide details of the overnight attack to support his claim, at times seeming to taunt the FBI for its failure to find him.

"I'm not particularly worried," he said in a telephone call Tuesday. "It seems like they really don't know what they're doing at all."

He said in a telephone call Wednesday that they picked the night of Aug. 22 for "no particular reason, except for the fact that everyone was available that night." The attacks began around midnight, and finished around 5 a.m., he said. He did not say how many people had participated, who they were or provide any description of them.

The San Gabriel Valley dealerships were chosen for convenience, he said. "There wasn't an actual plan," he said. "We were just driving."

The first car lot hit was the Rusnak Mercedes-Benz dealership in Arcadia, where police said nine SUVs were vandalized.

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