NEWS- Eco-arsonist: Former C'ville reporter cops plea

Lacey Phillabaum's time in Charlottesville was brief. In the spring of 2005, she worked for a couple of months as a reporter for C-ville Weekly and then penned a couple of articles for the Hook. 

But Phillabaum went from reporter to reported when she pleaded guilty last week in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, Washington, to three counts in a May 21, 2001, blaze at the University of Washington as a member of ELF and ALF– the so-called earth and animal liberation fronts.

With her October 4 guilty pleas to arson, conspiracy, and using a destructive device during a violent crime, Phillabaum faces between three and five years in prison when she's sentenced in January. Still, that's a shorter sentence than many of her comrades are getting, leading some to charge that she's a "snitch."

According to the indictment, Phillabaum and co-conspirators Jennifer Kolar, William C. Rodgers, Justin Solondz, and Briana Waters made handmade devices using kitchen timers, matches, sponges, and containers filled with fuel when they torched the Center for Urban Horticulture at the University of Washington in 2001.

Phillabaum, 31, admitted being on the premises. Kolar, 33, confessed to using a knife to cut a window to enter an office, and she faces five to seven years. Solondz is on the lam, and Rodgers– the alleged ring-leader– committed suicide in jail in Arizona and was found the morning after the winter solstice, December 22, 2005.

Authorities believe Rodgers also planned this country's largest ecoterrorist attack, the 1998 torching of multiple Vail ski resort facilities, a $12 million incident that included the Two Elk restaurant. 

As previously reported by the Hook, Phillabaum's beau, former Piedmont Virginia Community College student Stanislas Gregory Meyerhoff, pleaded guilty in July to 54 counts of arson and conspiracy in Eugene, Oregon. In September, he was also arraigned in the Vail conflagration and will be sentenced in December.

Meyerhoff followed Phillabaum to Charlottesville in 2005 when she worked for C-ville Weekly. He enrolled in engineering classes at Piedmont in fall 2005. It's unclear whether Meyerhoff and Phillabaum collaborated in acts of sabotage.

C-ville editor Cathy Harding was aware of Phillabaum's skills in researching land use issues and her environmental background, but nothing hinted at how deeply she was involved. "Clearly if I had any reason to suspect that kind of background or criminal ties, I wouldn't have hired her," says Harding.

Reached in her hometown of Spokane, where she remains free on her own personal recognizance, Phillabaum declined to comment about her case. But she did warn that not everything being written about her on the Internet is true.

For instance, Portland Indymedia accused Phillabaum of being a "snitch" and of wearing a wire, althought the anonymous poster later retracted the wire-wearing accusation.

While their plea agreement is sealed, government releases make it clear that Phillabaum and Kolar's sentences will be lighter in return for turning themselves in and cooperating with the prosecution, which could include testifying against their former colleagues in ecoterrorism.

The May 21, 2001, arson at the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture was allegedly an attempt to destroy biologist Toby Bradshaw's genetically engineered poplars. Bradshaw's work survived the blaze, but other researchers lost priceless research and endangered plants, the cost of which is not included in the nearly $7 million price tag to rebuild the facility lost in western Washington's largest ecoterrorist attack.

The University of Washington torching was not Phillabaum's first brush with the law. She was one of 22 protesters arrested June 2, 1997, for blocking a Eugene building site to prevent the felling of 40 trees. A riot ensued and Phillabaum, then 22, was charged with second-degree criminal trespass, according to the Center for Defense of Free Enterprise.

A blog called bombsandshields claims Phillabaum is the narrator of the underground documentary, Breaking the Spell, "which promotes property destruction and examines the 1999 Seattle WTO riots from the perspective of Eugene anarchists."

A U.S. Department of Justice statement notes that in 2000, Phillabaum helped destroy five acres of canola plants being grown by Monsanto in Dusty, Washington. 

And in March 2001, the DOJ alleges Phillabaum plotted to destroy Oregon State University genetically engineered poplar trees near Corvallis, Oregon, but called off the action when she thought she saw a vehicle approach. Although the conspirators returned a few nights later to complete the deed, Phillabaum will not face charges in that incident.

"The plea agreement settles all charges," says western Washington U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman Emily Langlie.

When it happened, the torching of the Center for Urban Horticulture was controversial even among radical environmentalists. Earth First! Journal (where Phillabaum once was an editor) called the perps "morons." Pointing to the center's greenhouses where endangered plants are cultivated, its library of ancient botany journals, and its educational and community resources, writer Mitch Friedman asked, "Isn't this the kind of place we want to support?"

"Lacey is bright and articulate," says her father, Steve Phillabaum, a Spokane lawyer. "She made a mistake many years ago, and her family and I are proud of her for honestly and openly acknowledging the mistake and doing the right thing to deal with it." 

Lacey Phillabaum and Jennifer Kolar's photos are plastered on radical-enviro websites like the blog bombsandshields, which accuses them of being snitches.

The Merrill building was a $4 million loss when ELFers torched it in 2001. A $7 million new and improved facility was dedicated in January 2005.