Judge sentences eco-activist to community service for OR arson case, no prison time awarded

Seattle eco-activist pleaded guilty to a 1997 arson of an Oregon slaughterhouse

A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced an eco-activist to community service but no extra time in custody, rejecting the government’s call for a yearslong prison term for the Seattle man related to arsons decades ago.

Joseph Dibee, 54, was a fugitive for more than a decade.

In April, Dibee pleaded guilty to the 1997 arson of a slaughterhouse in central Oregon that butchered wild horses and sold the meat in Europe. He also pleaded to the 2001 arson of a Bureau of Land Management wild horse corral in Litchfield, California. As part of his plea agreement, federal prosecutors dropped arson charges in Washington state.

He told U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken Monday by video in federal court in Eugene that he was truly sorry, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

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"I haven’t been involved in this type of activity for many years," Dibee told the judge. "I’ve moved on with my life. It was a mistake many years ago -- many, many years ago -- and I paid a really heavy price for it."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Quinn Harrington sought a prison term of more than seven years, arguing Dibee shouldn’t be "rewarded with a lower sentence after fleeing accountability."

Dibee took more of a leadership role in igniting fires when some of his co-defendants served more as lookouts, Harrington said.

Defense lawyer Matthew Schindler argued for a sentence of time-served — the two years and five months Dibee spent in jail. During that time, a white supremacist broke Dibee's jaw, permanently disfiguring him, and Dibee was the first to contract COVID-19 in Multnomah County’s Inverness Jail, his lawyer said.

An eco-activist from Seattle has been sentenced to community service for an arson case that took place in 1997.

An eco-activist from Seattle has been sentenced to community service for an arson case that took place in 1997.

Aiken, who has been with the case since the start, said she believed Dibee has recognized his wrongs. She remains impressed with his work now to use his "incredible engineering skills" to help Indigenous tribes in Alaska, she said.

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Since his release from jail to care for his terminally-ill father, Dibee has not violated any of his supervision conditions, the judge said.

She ordered him to complete 1,000 hours of community service in the next three years and pay about $1.3 million in restitution, an amount shared by his co-defendants.

Federal investigators said Dibee was part of the largest group of eco-saboteurs ever taken down by the FBI. They called themselves "The Family" -- more than a dozen people who committed crimes in the name of the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front -- and caused an estimated $40 million in damage from 1996 to 2005.

Dibee was eventually tracked down in Cuba in August 2018.

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He’s the 12th person to be sentenced. One alleged group member, Josephine Sunshine Overaker, is still listed on a FBI terrorism most wanted list. The sentences of his co-defendants have ranged from about three years to 13 years in prison.