PORTLAND — The posters located around the Pacific Northwest were a study in contrasts. “Wanted” they screamed in bold, red type, “Should be considered armed and dangerous.”
Pictured inside the space usually reserved for hardened and dangerous suspects was instead the slight, unassuming countenance of a 25-year-old Canadian, her hair pulled back, her mouth pursed.
It was this image that defined Rebecca Rubin during her seven years on the run, from the month before charges were filed in January 2006 until Thursday, when she eased herself into a leather-backed chair in a Portland, Ore., federal courtroom and pleaded guilty.
Rubin, now 40, was a member of the eco-terrorism group “The Family,” which claimed responsibility for 20 fires across the West that caused $40 million in damage between 1996 to 2001, when the group effectively disbanded.
But federal investigators, working under the aegis of “Operation Backfire,” used a former member’s drug habit to turn him into an informant, and one by one, members of the group fell into prosecutors’ hands. Ten of them pleaded guilty to arson and conspiracy charges in 2007. Two of them remain in hiding.
That only left Rubin.
She tried to turn herself in once, in 2009, but the state of California wanted a 30-year minimum sentence for crimes committed there in 2001.
No deal, her Canadian attorney said. So she waited. And the U.S. government waited.
Her attorney, Richard Troberman, asked again last year, and this time, California was willing to be more lenient.
Rubin arrived at the Canadian-Washington state border in 2012, and on Thursday, in a voice so soft a judge asked her to speak up, Rubin said, yes, she had helped with the burning of a wild horse barn in 1997, and, yes, she helped ferry equipment for an attempted arson at a U.S. Forest Industries building in Oregon.
She listened to Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Peifer lay out the rest of the incidents: a burned ski lodge in Colorado in 1998 and a fire at a California wild horse facility in October 2001.
None of the crimes to which she pleaded guilty involved her actually setting fires. But Rubin accepted responsibility for helping those who did set the fires, and will face a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison. Prosecutors will seek seven years imprisonment at her sentencing on Jan. 27.
Troberman revealed some of his strategy for the sentencing hearing outside of court on Thursday. Rubin is a changed woman, he said, and sorry for the actions that didn’t kill anyone but damaged private and government property.
“Of course she feels remorse,” Troberman said after the plea hearing. “She’s a very different person.”
Rubin is not specifically charged with terrorism, but the indictment alleges that she and other members of “The Family” tried to influence and retaliate against businesses and the government.
The terrorism allegation serves as a potential enhancement to her sentence, something her attorney calls “grossly unfair.”
As part of her plea agreement, Rubin must have “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 the two still on the run — but do require her to remember conversations and describe events to the best of her memory.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has final say over whether she has been cooperative.
“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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