Eugene, Oregon -- A judge sentenced a radical environmentalist Friday to nine years in prison for torching a police substation and a tree farm and for downing a power line, deeds the judge called acts of terrorism.
Chelsea Dawn Gerlach, 30, is the third of 10 members of The Family, a Eugene-based cell of the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front, to be sentenced. All have pleaded guilty to conspiracy and arson charges in a string of 20 fires that did $40 million worth of damage in five states, including a 1998 fire at the Vail ski resort in Colorado.
In imposing a sentence one year shorter than prosecutors recommended, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken commended Gerlach for her extraordinary cooperation with authorities, which included persuading her boyfriend and other co-defendants to plead guilty after she had already made her plea bargain and had nothing to gain.
Aiken agreed with defense attorneys that Gerlach might never have committed the arsons if at age 16 she had not met William ''Avalon'' Rodgers, the charismatic leader of The Family, at an Earth First encampment in Idaho.
Aiken found there was evidence the police substation fire, the tree farm fire and the high-voltage line toppling were meant as retaliation against government actions or to intimidate the government, qualifying as terrorism for sentencing purposes.
However, she found that the Vail arson was not terrorism. She said a communique Gerlach wrote referred to stopping the resort from expanding into endangered lynx habitat but did not mention any government role.