Saturday, April 09, 2011

Officials: Informant violated probation

An arsonist who testified against radical environmentalists is back in jail

Jacob Jeremiah Ferguson, the arsonist-turned-­informant who helped federal officials convict 10 co-conspirators in the largest-ever prosecution of underground environmental radicals, was arrested this week after authorities accused him of violating terms of the probation he received in 2008 in exchange for his cooperation with the government.

Ferguson, a 38-year-old Eugene resident, is being held in the Lane County Jail. He is scheduled to appear Monday in U.S. District Court in Eugene for a status conference.

A spokeswoman in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland did not have information on what led officials to arrest Ferguson for an alleged probation violation.

If Ferguson’s probation is revoked, he could be sent to prison.

Ferguson pleaded guilty in 2007 to one count each of arson and attempted arson, as part of an agreement with prosecutors that allowed him to avoid prison and instead be placed on probation for five years.

In pleading guilty, Ferguson acknowledged taking part in an attempt to burn down a U.S. Forest Service ranger station near Detroit and setting fire to a pickup truck near the building in 1996.

Court records showed that Ferguson was involved in at least 14 arsons and acts of sabotage — more than any of the 10 co-conspirators he helped the government prosecute in the so-called Operation Backfire case.

All 10 went to prison after Ferguson, working undercover for federal investigators, wore a recording device to capture 88 hours of conversation with them.

When court proceedings revealed Ferguson’s cooperation, he became a pariah in the activist community and was subjected to numerous threats, prosecutors said in court the day U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken sentenced him to probation.

The 10 others convicted in the case in Oregon were ordered to serve prison terms ranging from three to 13 years, and pay millions of dollars in restitution to arson and sabotage victims in five Western states who suffered property damage and business loss.

Ferguson, according to court records, took part in crimes that included the destruction of the Oakridge Ranger Station in 1996, the Cavel West horsemeat packing plant in Redmond in 1997, the U.S. Forest Industries office in Medford in 1998, the Childers Meat Co. in Eugene in 1999, and the Superior Lumber Co. in Glendale in 2001.

Ferguson and the others convicted in Operation Backfire were part of an activist group known as “The Family.”

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