United States Attorney Jenny A. Durkan
Western District of Washington
Last Defendant Arrested In Uw Horticulure Center Arson Sentenced To Prison
Student who Built Fire Bomb, Drove Getaway Car Sentenced to Seven Years in Prison
The last participant arrested in the 2001 arson of the University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Tacoma to seven years in prison and three years of supervised release, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. JUSTIN SOLONDZ, 32, pleaded guilty last December to conspiracy and arson. At sentencing U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton said, “People who have deep passions about political events sometimes permit themselves to view themselves as above the law…. One of the things that bind us as a civilized people is adherence to the rule of law…. It is the only code that binds civilized people together …. You have attacked that belief and that system.”
“This defendant destroyed a public building, derailed the careers of dedicated UW students and faculty members, and put firefighters and others at risk,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. “The victims of this crime paid a heavy price, and now it is time for Mr. Solondz to pay his debt and be held accountable.”
In his plea agreement, SOLONDZ admits he 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. The plea agreement details how SOLONDZ left the country in 2005, and, when he learned of arrests in the arson case, decided to stay abroad, traveling under a false name. In early 2009, SOLONDZ was arrested by Chinese authorities for manufacturing drugs. He was returned to the United States in July 2011, in the custody of the FBI.
In their request for the seven-year sentence, prosecutors describe how the fire impacted many lives. “The scars from that night, however, have not fully healed. Solondz’ actions caused over six million dollars in damage, as the entire building had to be scrapped and rebuilt. Solondz’ actions placed the lives of firefighters at risk, as they struggled to contain the towering inferno that had engulfed the building. And they had the potential to put other persons at risk as well….Solondz’ actions also dealt enormous setbacks to countless professors, researchers, and students, who saw years of hard work and research go up in flames. They destroyed a significant portion of an extensive library, which contained many rare texts and original research materials that could not be replaced. And they terrorized the occupants of the building and members of their families, many of who suffered long-lasting emotional impact from the arson,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo.
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 caused tens of millions of dollars in damage. In all, fifteen people have been convicted of crimes related to a string of fires across the western United States investigated under “Operation Backfire.” All those connected with the UW arson have been ordered to share in restitution to the University of Washington and the State of Washington totaling $6,092,649.
Three other defendants, Jennifer Kolar, of Seattle, Washington, Lacey Phillabaum, of Spokane, Washington, and Briana Waters, of Oakland, California have each pleaded guilty to the arson. Kolar was sentenced to five years in prison for the UW Center for Urban Horticulture fire and other arsons. Phillabaum was sentenced to three years in prison. Waters will be sentenced June 22, 2012. Under the terms of her plea agreement, both sides will recommend four years in prison. Waters served more than two-and-a-half years in prison following her conviction for the arson in 2008. That conviction was overturned in 2010. Waters entered a guilty plea in June 2011.
In addition to the defendants who have been convicted, the leader of the arson cell, and the fifth participant in the UW Center for Urban Horticulture arson, William C. Rodgers, 40, of Prescott, Arizona, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Seattle in connection with the case. However, Rodgers committed suicide in December 2005, while being held in the Coconino County Jail in Prescott, Arizona.
This case is the result of a ten-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.