NEWS- ELF connection: Ecoterrorist attended PVCC
Stanislas Gregory Meyerhoff enrolled in engineering classes last fall at Piedmont Virginia Community College. But the Oregon native's academic career and his time in Charlottesville ended in December, when the FBI arrested him for seven separate arsons in Oregon– and for taking part in the largest ecoterrorist attack in this country: the burning of Two Elk, a massive restaurant perched atop ski slopes in Vail, Colorado.
On July 21, Meyerhoff, 29, pleaded guilty in a Eugene, Oregon, federal court to 54 counts of arson and conspiracy– crimes for which he could face 15 years and eight months in prison when he and five other Earth Liberation Front/Animal Liberation Front co-defendants are sentenced in December.
Those pleas don't include the October 19, 1998, burning of the $12 million Vail ski facility, a loss its owners estimate at $15 million, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Peifer.
How did a saboteur who's admitted destroying property between 1996 and 2001 valued at $20 million to $40 million end up in Charlottesville?
One possibility: love.
Lacey Phillabaum, a journalist, moved from Oregon to Charlottesville in 2005 to take what would be a brief job writing for C-Ville Weekly. She also wrote two articles as a freelancer for the Hook. Her boyfriend, Meyerhoff, came from Oregon to visit her.
"I had a drink with him once," says C-Ville editor Cathy Harding, who describes her impression of Meyerhoff as "completely neutral."
Meyerhoff moved to Charlottesville and enrolled at Piedmont for fall 2005 classes, PVCC spokeswoman Mary Jane King confirms. He resided at 414 Four Seasons Drive, according to the FBI's search warrant affidavit. Phillabaum, who no longer lives in Charlottesville, declined to comment about the case.
Following his arrest December 7, Meyerhoff confessed to a spate of sabotage: toppling power lines near Bend, Oregon, December 30, 1999, and setting fires at the Boise Cascade Company in Monmouth, the Childers Meat Company in Eugene, a Eugene Police Department station, and Superior Lumber in Glendale. He also admitted torching 35 vehicles at Joe Romania Chevrolet Truck Center in Eugene on March 30, 2001, and igniting the Jefferson Poplar Farm in Clatskanie, Oregon, May 21, 1999.
According to published accounts, Meyerhoff had retired from the ecoterrorist life and had escaped legal consequences– until a former ELFer cooperated with the FBI and wore a wire to obtain evidence against Meyerhoff and other cell members.
On June 28, 2005, the wired informant reminisced with Meyerhoff about the Jefferson Poplar Farm job. Meyerhoff, aka "Jack" and "Country Boy," discussed making "burgers"– the timing devices– and joshed about a "double whammy" when explosives were set off at the same time in Oregon and Washington, according to the search warrant affidavit.
Meyerhoff attended high school in Eugene with Chelsea Dawn "Country Girl" Gerlach, another ELFer who pleaded guilty July 21. At South Eugene High, both were considered peace activists.
The two were recruited by William Rodgers, whom authorities call the "mastermind" of the band of ecoterrorists. According to the indictment, Meyerhoff and Rodgers, an Arizona bookstore owner, penned Setting Fire with Electrical Timers: An Earth Liberation Front Guide. Rodgers likely would have been indicted with the others arrestees, but he committed suicide in an Arizona jail on December 22.
At the time of the Vail fires, the resort was preparing to open a massive new trail system beyond its famed Back Bowls. Dubbed "Blue Sky Basin," the expansion would have solidified Vail's reputation as America's largest single ski mountain. But many environmentalists considered the new trails destructive to the habitat of the Canadian lynx, an endangered wild cat.
If the on-mountain fires, set less than three weeks before ski season, were intended to show Vail the error of its ways, they had the opposite effect, according to Powder Burn, a book about the crimes that entertained the notion (in one chapter, anyway) that Vail itself might have set the blaze to engender public sympathy. Two ELF claims of responsibility– including one implicitly threatening the safety of company officials– helped sway public opinion against the arsonists.
Meyerhoff "was part of a small group that traveled from Oregon," explains prosecuter Peifer. "They stopped in Utah to manufacture explosive devices." But when they reached Vail, snow prevented Gerlach's truck from making it to the top.
The band unloaded and hid gasoline and diesel fuel. "Meyerhoff quit the project because he didn't think it could be done," Peifer says. Gerlach, he says, drove Rodgers back and waited while the ringleader set the fires that damaged or destroyed eight structures, including Two Elk, a 33,000-square-foot expanse of mammoth timbers and glass considered the mountain's flagship restaurant.
Meyerhoff faces eight charges in the Vail conflagrations when the case is transferred from Colorado to Oregon. In court July 21, both Gerlach and Meyerhoff apologized for their roles in the spree. Six defendants have entered guilty pleas; four await trial, and three are fugitives believed to be out of the country.
Charlottesville was the scene of an Earth Liberation Front action in February 2004, when three vehicles were set ablaze at the Hollymead Town Center construction site. The FBI says its investigation is ongoing.
While FBI spokesman Larry Barry declined to comment about whether Meyerhoff is a suspect in the Hollymead sabotage, prosecutor Peifer points out that Meyerhoff didn't arrive here from Bend until the beginning of the fall 2005 school term, more than a year after ELFers targeted Hollymead.
Stanislas Meyerhoff was an engineering student at PVCC last fall, until the FBI arrested him for a string of ecoterrorist acts in Oregon, Colorado and four other states.
PHOTO BY KEVIN CLARK, COURTESY OF THE REGISTER GUARD#