GRANTS PASS, Ore. — Three people pleaded guilty Thursday to charges they were part of an ecoterrorism cell calling itself "The Family" that firebombed ranger stations, wild-horse corrals, a ski resort and lumber mill offices around the West.
As part of the plea agreement, the three agreed to cooperate in the continuing investigation of 10 others who are scheduled to go on trial Oct. 31 in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Ore., for a series of firebombings around the Northwest from 1996 to 2001, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
"This is a substantial step in resolution of this case and successful prosecution of the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front in these crimes," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Stephen Peifer of Eugene. The two shadowy groups claimed responsibility for the attacks at the time.
In pleading guilty, the three admitted that they were part of the two groups and that they had tried to intimidate and coerce federal agencies, private businesses and the public through sabotage and mass destruction, court records said. A total of 16 attacks were undertaken in Washington, Oregon, California, Wyoming and Colorado, causing more than $20 million in damage.
U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken in Eugene accepted guilty pleas on charges of criminal conspiracy and related arson counts from Kevin Tubbs, 37, of Springfield, Ore.; Kendall Tankersley, also known as Sarah Kendall Harvey, 29, of Flagstaff, Ariz.; and Darren Todd Thurston, 36, a Canadian lately living in Portland, Ore.
They are to be sentenced Dec. 14, after the others are tried. Prosecutors are recommending 14 years in prison for Tubbs, four years for Tankersley and three years for Thurston.
More defendants were expected to plead guilty today, the Justice Department said.
Though the three were not personally involved in all the firebombings undertaken by the cell, they admitted that the group was responsible for attacks that started in 1996 with two ranger stations on the Willamette National Forest outside Eugene, where Earth Liberation Front graffiti was painted, and included the 1998 firebombing of a ski resort in Vail, Colo.
While setting a fire, they often wore dark clothing, gloves and masks, which they destroyed afterward, according to court records. The bombs were 5gallon buckets filled with fuel and set off with kitchen timers, matches, sponges and model rocket igniters.
One time they hid the firebombs in Christmas wrapping paper while driving to a target.
In 1997 in Oregon, the group hit a horse slaughterhouse in Redmond and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management wild-horse corrals in Burns.
In 1998 the cell branched out to hit federal plant inspection facilities in Olympia, Wash.; the Vail ski resort; and wild-horse corrals in Rock Springs, Wyo. They also hit a lumber mill office in Medford, Ore.
In 1999 the group stayed in Oregon, firebombing a meatpacking plant in Eugene and a lumber company office in Monmouth, and toppling a power-line tower near Bend.