Radical 'snitch' in Western arsons gets probation

Radical 'snitch' in Western arsons gets probation

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) - A radical environmentalist who helped federal officials round up a militant cell of arsonists called "the Family" has been sentenced to five years on probation.

After 20 fires across the West and $40 million in damage, federal agents turned Jacob Ferguson into an informant in 2004.

He took a recorder to meetings with other members of the Family and broke what a prosecutor said Tuesday was a "wall of silence."

Other members also talked, and one committed suicide in jail.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kirk Engdall said Ferguson's sentencing marks the end of the 10-year investigation, although three of 15 conspirators are fugitives.

"Only through the assistance of Mr. Ferguson, did the pieces of this mosaic come together," Engdall said.

Ferguson, who once had a pentagram tattoo on his head and studied diesel mechanics at Lane Community College, renounced his past Tuesday.

He said the efforts of the Family had "achieved nothing," and the arsonists were fortunate nobody was injured or killed.

He apologized for the economic damage and disruption that he and the others caused for nearly five years.

"I'll never be able to give back what I took away," he said.

Ferguson, dressed in a black sweater and black slacks, said he would work with young people to help them avoid getting caught up in violent protests no matter how noble the cause.

Engdall said Ferguson had overcome heroin addiction and the experience of growing up with a drug-addicted father who was in and out of prison.

Ferguson, now 35, also has gone back to school and is raising his son, Engdall said.

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken praised Ferguson's efforts to turn his life around, and told him that he had a chance with his own son to "break the cycle of abuse and neglect."

Defense attorney Ed Spinney said Ferguson had taken only a tape recorder to dozens of undercover meetings with co-conspirators. Investigators did not monitor the meetings, so "he put himself in danger many times," Spinney said.

Ferguson since has been the target of threats and has been shunned by the environmental activist community to which he once belonged, Spinney said.

The targets of the arsonists included forest ranger stations, meat packing plants, wild horse corrals, lumber mill offices, research facilities and an SUV dealer. They were often attributed to the Earth Liberation Front or the Animal Liberation Front.

After a federal task force broke up the Family, one member, William Rodgers, committed suicide in Arizona in 2005.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)