Canadian environmental activist pleads guilty to arson attacks in U.S. West

PORTLAND, Oregon (Reuters) - A Canadian environmentalist pleaded guilty on Thursday to setting a string of fires across the U.S. West that torched a ski resort and other buildings in what the Justice Department has called the “largest eco-terrorism case” in U.S. history.

Rebecca Rubin, who surrendered to authorities a year ago after a decade on the run, was accused of helping the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front carry out 20 acts of arson across several U.S. states between 1996 and 2001.

Rubin, 40, pleaded guilty to 12 counts of arson and conspiracy as part of a plea deal that prosecutors said could see her spend between five and 7-1/2 years in prison. She is scheduled to be sentenced in Portland on January 27.

Prosecutors have said that the arson campaign stood out for the number of fires set and damage caused, which was estimated at more than $40 million. The charges against Rubin were consolidated from cases filed in Oregon, Colorado and California.

Rubin, shackled at the ankles and wearing blue prison togs, pleaded guilty of involvement in an arson attack on the Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse Facility near Burns, Oregon, in 1998 and a similar facility in California in 2001. The horses were released in both incidents.

She also admitted involvement in the attempted arson of U.S. Forest Service Industries in Medford, Oregon, and pleaded guilty to eight counts of arson for the 1998 torching of a Vail ski resort in Colorado.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Peifer said the Vail plan “was motivated by environment and animal welfare concerns” and that she had carried fuel up the mountain, where it was hidden in the snow for later use. She did not participate in the actual arson that took place later, he said.

Rubin did not speak in court other than to enter her pleas and to repeatedly say that she understood all the proceedings and provisions of her agreement and was not coerced.

In 2007, 10 other defendants in the group pleaded guilty to various counts and received prison terms from 37 to 156 months. Two others charged in the case remain at large.

Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker