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Joseph Dibee sentenced in two decades-old arson cases motivated by environmental extremism

Dibee was released with time served after pleading guilty to acts of eco-terrorism in several states, including Oregon, during the 1990s.

EUGENE, Oregon — A man who pleaded guilty to committing acts of eco-terrorism in western states was sentenced Tuesday. The sentence for Joseph Dibee of time served at 29 months incarcerated comes more than two decades after his crimes were committed.

It is not the sentence prosecutors wanted for the 54-year-old Dibee.

He pleaded guilty to committing two arsons in Oregon and California more than two decades ago in connection with the domestic eco-terrorist group Earth Liberation Front.

The government wanted seven years for Dibee. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken sentenced him to time served of 29 months.

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That's how long Dibee spent in custody after being returned to the United States by Cuban authorities. He was a fugitive for more than a decade, living in Russia and Syria.

“From the time that he left to the point that he returned, nothing about his life or anything else indicated that he hadn't learned from this experience and hadn't changed from the kind of guy that would have been involved,” said defense attorney Matt Schindle, who served as a court-appointed public defender on the case.  

Schindler said that Dibee admitted guilt and apologized for what he did, having been part of a group that set fire to a wild horse slaughterhouse in Central Oregon in 1997.

He also pleaded guilty for participating in the burning a Bureau of Land Management wild horse corral in Litchfield, California in 2001.

The sentence is far less than some other defendants in the case got.

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Billy Williams was U.S. Attorney for Oregon when Dibee was taken into custody in 2018. Now in private practice as a partner in a Bend law firm, Williams said he respects the court but is disappointed with the sentence.

“Whether you’re an eco-terrorist or some other kind of terrorist, whatever your terrorism choice is, you don't get to engage in that criminal conduct without an expectation that you're going to be held accountable, even after all these years of fleeing an avoiding the consequences,” Williams said.

Dibee's attorney said the consequences were severe during his client’s time in custody at Multnomah County's Inverness Jail. Schindler said Dibee was the first inmate to contract COVID-19 and also suffered a disfiguring broken jaw after being assaulted by another inmate.

“He's incredibly thankful and grateful that he didn't go to jail any more — on the other hand, there are consequences that emanate from something like this that stick with you for a long time,” Schindle said.

As part of the plea agreement, Dibee was ordered to serve 1,000 hours of community service and to pay part of a total $1.3 million in restitution that will be shared between the defendants. The agreement also dropped a third charge involving arson at a Department of Agriculture building in Olympia, Washington in 1998.

Schindler said Dibee is now focusing his engineering skills on helping the environment and indigenous tribes in Alaska by tracking kelp production in ocean communities.

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