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Woman indicted in arson investigation.

Byline: Bill Bishop The Register-Guard

A 14th defendant was indicted Wednesday in Eugene in Operation Backfire, the multistate federal investigation of arson by suspects who allegedly acted in the name of the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front over a six-year period.

The defendant, 33-year-old Jennifer Lynn Kolar of Seattle, pleaded guilty earlier Wednesday in a separate case filed in Seattle in connection with a $7 million arson at the University of Washington in 2001.

A second woman, Lacey Phillabaum, a Spokane resident formerly of Eugene, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy, arson and use of a destructive device in the Washington case.

Both women were released without bail. Authorities told the Associated Press that the two turned themselves in and have cooperated with ongoing investigations.

Federal prosecutors said the two were part of a five-person team in the May 21, 2001, firebombing that destroyed the UW's Center for Urban Horticulture. The center worked on fast-growing hybrid poplars.

Briana Waters, 30, of Berkeley, Calif., has pleaded not guilty in the case and is scheduled for trial in May 2007. Authorities said the fifth person named in the case, Justin Solondz, 26, formerly of Jefferson County, Wash., is still at large.

Kolar also pleaded guilty to an attempted arson charge for a failed 1998 firebombing that damaged a Wray, Colo., gun club that organized a multistate turkey shoot.

Under the plea agreement, Kolar will serve five to seven years. Phillabaum faces a sentence of three to five years. She has not yet been indicted in the larger Backfire conspiracy. Sentencing for both is set for Jan. 5.

In the Backfire case, Kolar is charged with conspiring with the larger group and specifically with taking part in an arson that destroyed the Cavel West horse meat packing plant near Redmond in July 1997 and with damaging a BPA tower near Bend on Dec. 31, 1999.

No arraignment date has been set in federal court in Eugene.

In a related matter, defense lawyers have agreed to wait another month to discover whether warrantless wiretaps were used to gather evidence against defendants in the Backfire conspiracy. No reason was given for the delay.

The case, the largest indictment of radical environmental activists ever, could be thrown out if the wiretaps exist and a court finds them unconstitutional. A prosecutor has said such wiretaps were not part of the investigation. Defense lawyers based their request on news media revelations that President Bush, citing the war on terrorism, had authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on U.S. residents without showing a court any evidence that the residents might be tied to illegal activities. They cited statements by top administration counterterrorism officials who described ELF and ALF as "one of today's most serious domestic terrorism threats."

Six of the defendants have entered plea deals and are facing sentencing Dec. 14. Four others await trial. Two are fugitives.
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Title Annotation:Crime; A second woman also pleads guilty in the Operation Backfire case
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Oct 5, 2006
Previous Article:Issue hangs over income tax talk.
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