BEIJING – An American man wanted for ecoterrorism attacks in the western United States has been sentenced to three years in a Chinese prison on drug charges.
Justin Franchi Solondz, 30, was given the sentence Friday, said an official at the intermediate court in Dali city, in southwestern China's Yunnan province, who gave his family name as Zhao.
Solondz was indicted in California and Washington state in 2006 in connection with a series of arsons attributed to "the Family," a collection of radical environmentalists aligned with the Animal and Earth Liberation Fronts, from 1996-2001.
Attacks by the group caused more than $80 million in damage, according to the FBI, which called Solondz a domestic terrorist. Prosecutors say Solondz used timers, Tupperware containers and fuel-filled bladders to build incendiary devices used in one of the most notorious blazes, the May 2001 destruction of the University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture.
Investigators heard little of Solondz after his indictment, and the FBI issued a $50,000 reward late last year for information leading to his arrest. At the time, the agency said he might be in Canada, Europe or Asia.
Early this year he surfaced in Dali, a city popular with Western tourists, using a phony Canadian identification and an altered appearance, Mark Bartlett, the first assistant U.S. attorney in Seattle, said Saturday. He was arrested in a drug investigation in March, and a few weeks later federal prosecutors in Seattle were contacted to help confirm his true identity, Bartlett said.
The U.S. has no extradition treaty with China and it's not immediately clear when or how Solondz might be returned to the U.S. to face charges, Bartlett said, but the Justice Department has informed Chinese officials that it remains interested in prosecuting him.
"We did not want to be seen as interfering, so we were letting the legal process go forward there so he can face the music there," said Seattle FBI spokeswoman Robbie Burroughs. "When he gets back here we'll deal with him."
Messages left for Solondz's parents in New Jersey were not immediately returned Saturday. They were quoted in The New York Times on Saturday as saying their son had been accused of keeping 33 pounds of marijuana buried in a courtyard of his rented house as well as a drug laboratory inside.
Prosecutors in the United States say that among the fires Solondz was involved in were arsons at the Litchfield Wild Horse and Burro Corral in Susanville, Calif., and the destruction of several buildings at a poplar farm in Clatskanie, Ore. in 2001.
His ex-girlfriend, Briana Waters, is serving six years in federal prison for serving as a lookout at the University of Washington fire. At her trial, prosecutors contended that Solondz built his incendiary devices in a clean room behind her home in Olympia, Wash.
Of 17 people indicted on charges related to the string of ELF and ALF attacks, 13 have been convicted. Three remain at large and are believed to be outside the U.S.: Josephine Sunshine Overaker, Joseph Mahmoud Dibee and Rebecca Rubin.