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Eco-activist Joseph Dibee sentenced for 1990s arson incidents

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A federal judge has sentenced a man accused of domestic terrorism to time served. Joseph Dibee was part of an environmental and animal rights movement whose members were charged with setting fires across the western U.S. Conrad Wilson of Oregon Public Broadcasting has details.

CONRAD WILSON, BYLINE: Between 1995 and 2001, federal prosecutors say the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front caused more than $45 million in fire damage to businesses and government buildings. Federal law enforcement once considered the groups the most significant domestic terrorism threat. This spring, Joseph Dibee pleaded guilty in two of those arsons, a slaughterhouse in central Oregon that butchered wild horses and sold the meat in Europe and a Bureau of Land Management horse corral in Northern California.

MATT SCHINDLER: I think he really regretted participating in that act.

WILSON: Matt Schindler is Dibee's attorney.

SCHINDLER: And it's not civil disobedience. It's like uncivil disobedience. He rejected it.

WILSON: Dibee's sentencing marks the culmination of a case that spanned decades and around the world. Dibee Fled just before his indictment in 2006. He remained a fugitive, living in Russia and Syria, where he says he worked as an engineer on large-scale environmental energy projects. The FBI arrested him in Cuba in 2018. After his arrest, Dibee spent 29 months in pre-trial custody, followed by home detention. U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken sentenced Dibee to time served and 1,000 hours of community service. A separate hearing will determine whether he'll share in paying $1.3 million in restitution. Dibee's sentence is less than other co-defendants. And that isn't sitting well with some in law enforcement.

BILLY WILLIAMS: It's disappointing.

WILSON: Billy Williams oversaw the U.S. attorney's office at the time of Dibee's arrest.

WILLIAMS: To see him not have to serve any additional time and what he did is unfortunate. It sends the wrong message. I don't agree with it.

WILSON: The FBI is still searching for one remaining co-defendant. And Dibee, he's moved on, working with the Native Conservancy in Alaska to help Native Alaskans grow more kelp, and in doing so, also combat climate change.

For NPR News, I'm Conrad Wilson in Portland.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE FLASHBULB'S "I CAN FEEL IT HUMMING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.