After more than a decade as a fugitive, a former Seattle resident has been taken into federal custody to face criminal charges that he joined in ecosabotage attacks in Washington, Oregon and California.
In an initial court appearance Friday in U.S. District Court in Portland, Joseph Dibee pleaded not guilty to charges that he helped set fire in 1997 to an Oregon meatpacking plant and was ordered detained as a flight risk.
He also faces federal charges in Western Washington for his alleged role in planning a June 21, 1998, arson at a U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service facility in Olympia, which caused $1.2 million in damage.
Dibee, in an indictment filed in 2006, was accused of being part of a group linked to a string of Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and Animal Liberation Front (ALF) arson and other attacks between 1995 and 2001 that caused more than $45 million in damage.
Members called themselves “The Family,” and their targets included the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture that was destroyed by arson on May 21, 2001, according to the Justice Department. A 2006 indictment does not name Dibee as a direct participant in the UW attack.
Dibee, 50, a computer-software tester who once worked for Microsoft, fled the United States in December 2005, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
According to court documents, federal authorities learned that he was traveling through Central America with a planned stop in Cuba, and they worked with Cuban authorities to have him detained there before he boarded a plane for Russia. He was then returned to the United States.
The Oregonian, citing a federal prosecutor, said that Dibee’s travels during his fugitive years took him to Mexico, Lebanon, Syria, Ecuador and El Salvador.
The federal investigation was known as “Operation Backfire,” and the Seattle field office of the FBI worked with authorities in several states on the case.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Billy Williams of the District of Oregon wrote: “More than two decades ago, a loosely affiliated group of environmental extremists set out to express their views” using force, violence, coercion and other tactics. “Today we recognize the FBI’s unwavering pursuit of justice in returning longstanding fugitive Joseph Dibee.”
Federal prosecutors have said that members of the group swore each other to secrecy as they conducted a seven-year campaign of arson and vandalism. The 2005 indictment offers the most detailed look at the tactics and acts prosecutors say were employed by a largely Oregon-based cell. Members sprayed “ELF” and “ALF” at crime scenes, and seemed so confident of their freedom that they touted their successes via internet news releases.
In Washington, Dibee faces charges of conspiracy to commit arson, possession of an unregistered firearm, and possession of a destructive device in furtherance of a crime of violence. He also faces charges in California for his alleged role in an attack on a federal Bureau of Land Management wild-horse compound.
In the statement released Friday, the U.S. Justice Department said Dibee was one of 12 co-conspirators. But an indictment filed in 2006 names Dibee as one of 13 co-conspirators.
Many of those named in the indictment have pleaded guilty to crimes and have been sentenced. Some received lengthy prison terms. Currently, only one of the alleged co-conspirators, Josephine Sunshine Overake, remains a fugitive. She faces 19 felony charges, according to the Justice Department.