'Family' member enters eco-terror guilty plea

The woman at the center of a seven-year manhunt whose face graced wanted posters around the Pacific Northwest cast a smaller shadow Thursday on a slow walk to her defense table in a Portland federal courtroom.

Now a decade removed from her membership in the eco-terrorism group "The Family," 40-year-old Rebecca Rubin stood slender and erect in her blue jail jumpsuit.

At 10:57 a.m., she said the words she's been dodging since authorities offered a $50,000 reward for her capture.

"Guilty," she said, in a voice so soft a judge had to ask her to speak up.

It was the first of three admissions of guilt she made Thursday to arson and conspiracy charges, and with them, consented to give up at least five years of her freedom. She will be sentenced on Jan. 27.

Rubin's plea was the latest admission of wrongdoing by members of "The Family" in a series of arsons across three Western states from 1996 to 2001 that did $40 million in damage.

Ten people pleaded guilty in 2007 to conspiracy and arson charges and were sentenced to prison. Two others indicted in the case remain at large.

Her attorney, Richard Troberman, described her seven years on the run as "a prison without walls."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Peifer laid out the factual basis for the charges against her, beginning with the freeing of wild horses from a federal horse-slaughter facility in Oregon in 1997. Other members of the group planted incendiary devices — the indictment doesn't specify the type — which burned the facility.

He then described a December 1998 incident, when Rubin helped ferry equipment for an attempted arson at a U.S. Forest Industries building in Oregon, and later that year, helped prepare for an arson at a Colorado ski resort.

Neither attempt worked, but both buildings were later burned in separate environmentally motivated fires.

According to a federal indictment, Rubin and three others traveled to Medford in early December 1998 to do reconnaissance and a "dry run" for the arson of the U.S. Forest Industries building. The indictment said the foursome then returned on Dec. 22, and placed "time-delayed incendiary devices" in and around the building. But the arson attempt failed.

Court docuemnts said two of the four, not including Rubin, returned early on Dec. 27, placing more unidentified devices that this time destroyed the building, causing an estimated $500,000 in damages.

On Jan. 16, 1999, the Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility for the arson in a letter cursing company President Jerry Bramwell and warning of future acts of violence.

"This action is payback and it is a warning to all others responsible, " the letter stated. "We do not sleep and we won't quit. For the future generations, we will fight back."

U.S. Forest Industries settled with its insurance company and relocated in Medford before dissolving.

Rubin, a Canadian citizen, was also charged with freeing horses at a federal wild horse facility in California before other members of the group set a barn on fire.

Rubin is not specifically charged with terrorism, but the indictment alleges that she and other members of "The Family" tried to influence businesses and the government and tried to retaliate against the government.

The terrorism allegation serves as a potential enhancement to her sentence, something her attorney calls "grossly unfair."

Troberman said Thursday that Rubin tried to surrender in 2009, but California authorities at first pushed for a 30-year sentence, one she found too long.

But by 2012, when Troberman checked again, he said he found prosecutors amenable to a deal. At sentencing, Troberman said he plans to introduce the idea that Rubin has changed since her 20s.

"Of course she feels remorse," Troberman said after the plea hearing. "She's a very different person."

As part of her plea agreement, Rubin agreed to "disclosure sessions" with the U.S. Attorney's Office for Oregon, something Troberman said she's already done and would continue to do if asked. The sessions do not require her to name or give the locations of any of her co-conspirators — including two still on the run — but do require her to remember conversations and describe events to the best of her memory.

She would be subject to a polygraph test if prosecutors request one, and the U.S. Attorney's Office has final say over whether she has cooperated to their satisfaction.

"Look, she's 40 years old now," Troberman said. "There's no question in my mind her motives were always pure, but her methods were not."

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