No bail for Oregon ecoterrorism suspects

MEDFORD, Ore. – A millionaire firefighter and a caregiver in a home for the developmentally disabled appeared in court Thursday on federal arson charges alleging that they firebombed two targets in acts claimed by the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front.

Smiling to friends and family who jammed the courtroom, Jonathan Christopher Mark Paul, 39, of the Ashland area and Suzanne Nicole “India” Savoie, 28, of Applegate, were both ordered held without bail pending further hearings.

A criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Eugene as part of the investigation of a series of Northwest arsons between 1996 and 2001 accused Paul, the firefighter, of setting firebombs that burned down the Cavel West horse slaughterhouse in Redmond on July 21, 1997. ALF claimed responsibility for that fire, which caused an estimated $1 million in damage.

Savoie, who works in a group home for the developmentally disabled in Ashland, is accused by a similar complaint of serving as a lookout for the Jan. 2, 2001, fire that destroyed the offices of Superior Lumber Co., a lumber mill in Glendale now known as the Swanson Group. ELF claimed responsibility for that fire.

Both face five to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted. Preliminary hearings were set for Jan. 30 in Eugene, unless a grand jury indicts them first.

The FBI arrested Paul on Tuesday outside Ashland at the Green Springs Inn, FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele said. Savoie turned herself in to the FBI on Thursday.

The two defendants bring to nine the number of people charged in a series of arsons from 1996 to 2001 in Oregon and Washington. They include two lumber mill offices, a tree farm, an SUV dealer and two federal research labs.

Authorities have also linked two of the earlier suspects to a fire at a Vail, Colo., ski resort, but no one has been charged in that case. Of the seven defendants named earlier, four are being held without bail, one is free on bail, one committed suicide in jail, and one remains a fugitive.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Fong argued that Paul presented a high flight risk and a danger to society because of the nature of the charges and the fact that he had a trust fund and other assets worth $1.7 million, which would allow him to post a $400,000 bond and still have plenty of cash to flee.

Defense attorney Stu Sugarman countered that Paul has lived openly in southern Oregon for nine years, has a family, and has demonstrated in the past that he was willing to surrender to authorities rather than hide.

In 1993, Paul spent five months in jail for contempt of court in Spokane for refusing to testify in the investigation of another ALF case, a 1991 raid that caused $100,000 in damages to U.S. Department of Agriculture offices at Washington State University in Pullman. He was released after a judge concluded imprisonment would not persuade him to talk.

When Paul was arrested, his first concern was to be sure his five dogs and cats were cared for, Sugarman added.

Sugarman argued that the only evidence is testimony from people facing lengthy prison terms for their own involvement.

According to an FBI affidavit, an unidentified informant involved in the horsemeat packing plant fire told investigators that Paul and an unidentified woman set the blaze using 5-gallon plastic buckets filled with a mix of gasoline, diesel oil and soap that were ignited by an electronic timer.

The buckets have been a signature of ELF and ALF fires.

Paul prepared the fuel mix, adding soap shavings so it would form a gel and burn more slowly, the affidavit said. They did a dry run a week before the fire. The night of the fire, one of the buckets went off unexpectedly, igniting a fireball, and two didn’t ignite, according to the affidavit.

Cavel has been criticized by animal-rights groups for slaughtering wild horses rounded up from U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands in the West. The Belgian-owned company never rebuilt the Redmond plant, but continues to operate one in DeKalb, Ill.

U.S. Magistrate John Cooney agreed to hear arguments today on whether to grant bail to Savoie.

Federal defender Tonia More argued that Savoie has known she was a suspect since December, when the FBI sent her a letter notifying her she was the target of a grand jury investigation. Instead of fleeing, she turned herself in.

An FBI affidavit against Savoie said she was the girlfriend of Daniel McGowan at the time, and they both served as lookouts in the Superior Lumber fire. McGowan of New York City is being held in Eugene on charges he helped torch Superior Lumber as well as a tree farm in Clatskanie. ELF claimed responsibility for both fires.

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