United States Attorney Jenny A. Durkan
Western District of Washington
FUGITIVE WHO BUILT FIREBOMBS LINKED TO 2001 ARSON OF UW CENTER FOR URBAN HORTICULTURE ARRESTED FOLLOWING EXPULSION FROM CHINA
Defendant to be Returned to Face Charges in Western Washington
JUSTIN SOLONDZ, 31, a fugitive from the Western District of Washington, was taken into federal custody in Chicago, Illinois, today following his expulsion from the People’s Republic of China. SOLONDZ will be returned to the Western District of Washington where he is indicted in connection with the 2001 blaze at the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture. SOLONDZ is alleged to have built the firebombs that started the $6 million blaze. According to court documents, SOLONDZ built the firebombs in a “clean room” behind an Olympia residence, transported them to Seattle, and remained in the car as a getaway driver during the arson. SOLONDZ is charged with Conspiracy, Arson, Making an Unregistered Destructive Device and Using a Destructive Device During a Crime of Violence. SOLONDZ will make his initial appearance on the indictment in U.S. District Court in Tacoma once he is transported to the District by the U.S. Marshals Service. SOLONDZ had been serving a prison sentence in China for manufacturing narcotic drugs.
“The dogged persistence and long term patience of the FBI has paid off. Mr. Solondz will finally face accountability for his actions,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan.
The May 21, 2001, three alarm fire at the Center for Urban Horticulture caused over $6 million in damages. The center has been rebuilt at a cost of more than $8 million. The fire destroyed samples of rare and endangered plants. Some researchers lost important data for their work to protect endangered plant species.
The UW fire bombing was part of a string of 17 arsons across the west by the radical groups the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). The arson spree did tens of millions of dollars in damage. In all, fourteen people have been convicted of crimes related to a string of fires across the western United States investigated under “Operation Backfire.” Three others remain fugitives: Joseph Mahmoud Dibee, Rebecca J. Rubin and Josephine Sunshine Overaker.
“FBI personnel across the Bureau worked tirelessly to bring Mr. Solondz back to the United States, with agents tracking him across eastern Europe, Russia, Mongolia, and China, said Laura M. Laughlin, Special Agent-in-Charge of the FBI Seattle office. “Although Mr. Solondz is the last of five perpetrators of the UW arson to be charged for his role in the conspiracy, the FBI will not rest until it also brings in the remaining “Operation Backfire” fugitives related to other ELF/ALF-claimed arsons in this region.”
In addition to the defendants who have been convicted, the leader of the arson cell, William C. Rodgers, 40, of Prescott, Arizona, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Seattle in connection with the case, but committed suicide in December 2005, while being held in the Coconino County Jail in Prescott, Arizona.
This case is the result of a nine-year investigation by law enforcement. The Seattle Fire Department battled the blaze. Participating in the extensive investigation were the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF), the Eugene Police Department, the Oregon State Police, the University of Washington Police Department and other state and federal law enforcement agencies.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Andrew Friedman and Thomas Woods.