NEWS- Jail first! Eco-arsonist goes to jail early
Eco-arsonist Lacey Phillabaum didn't wait for sentencing before going to jail. The former Charlottesville journalist entered a federal detention center January 28, six months before she will be sentenced for torching a $4 million horticulture facility.
"She's really eager to put this behind her," says James Johnson, a friend in Eugene, Oregon. "For most of us who know her, this whole incident is a bit of a shock. It's something she did when she was younger and that she deeply regrets."
Last fall, Phillabaum, 31, pleaded guilty to three counts in the 2001 eco-arson that destroyed the University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture, and she's looking at between three and five years when she's sentenced in July. She was indicted along with Jennifer Kolar, Justin Solondz, Briana Waters, and the late William C. Rodgers, who, according to the federal indictment, conspired to burn the horticulture center to destroy genetically engineered poplars.
Rodgers, believed to be the mastermind of the plot, committed suicide in jail December 22, 2005. He is also believed to have planned this country's largest ecoterrorism attack, one in Colorado that involved Phillabaum's boyfriend, Stanislas Meyerhoff.
Meyerhoff, who also resided briefly in Charlottesville, awaits a May sentencing on 54 counts involving seven arsons in Oregon, and another eight counts in the coordinated 1998 Colorado blazes that took out $12 million in ski facilities at Vail resort, including the mountaintop Two Elk restaurant. He pleaded guilty to around $20 million worth of arsons, and prosecutors are requesting a nearly 16-year sentence.
Phillabaum, who once served as an editor at the radical Earth First! Journal, was recruited from Oregon to Charlottesville in early 2005 by C-Ville Weekly. Meyerhoff followed in the fall, enrolled at Piedmont Virginia Community College, and studied engineering until his arrest on December 7, 2005.
Before her criminal past was revealed, Phillabaum freelanced two Hook stories and was working as a journalist in the Washington, DC area before her indictment. Friends have set up a website at laceyalice.org to provide information about her, particularly to counter the radical leftwing blogs that have accused her of being a snitch.
"There was a lot of vitriol directed against Lacey from the Pacific Northwest," says Johnson. "They objected to the fact that some of the defendants cooperated with authorities; they said she wore a wire, recorded conversations, and sold out all these people. That's just not true. Like other federal defendants, Lacey copped a plea."
Johnson considers Phillabaum's stint as an ecoterrorist an aberration. "She was briefly part of a conspiracy of folks who were isolated," he says. And when people say, "Wow, that doesn't sound like her at all," adds Johnson, "that's a truer reflection of what kind of person she is than a stupid crime committed six years ago."
Phillabaum is now being held at the SeaTac Federal Detention Facility in Seattle, which houses inmates awaiting sentencing. According to the friends' website, Phillabaum graduated cum laude from the University of Oregon in 1996 with a degree in art history and intends to continue writing and hopes to pursue a master's degree while she's in prison.
"I think Lacey was proud of the reporting she did in Charlottesville and extremely disappointed to have to leave it behind," says Johnson. "You have this person who for a very brief period many years ago led a bit of a double life. But she left that behind, and everything she did from that point was completely genuine. Lacey always took journalism really seriously."
Former Earth Liberation Front members Stan Meyerhoff and Lacey Phillabaum lived briefly in Charlottesville– after they torched millions of dollars worth of structures.
PHOTO COURTESY LACEY'S FRIENDS