Two environmental extremists have been sentenced to 30 years in federal prison and ordered to pay $4.1 million in restitution for their role in a Michigan State University (MSU) arson that caused more than $1 million in damage.
Marie Mason, of Cincinnati, and Frank Ambrose, of Detroit, were sentenced in February 2009 and October 2008, respectively, on charges relating to an explosion and fire at MSU's Agriculture Hall on New Year's Eve 1999. The arson was the most serious incident in a series of criminal acts the couple carried out on behalf of the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), the most active environmental extremist movement in the United States.
Mason and Ambrose, who were previously married, admitted to being involved in a five-year spree that began in 1999, when they set fire to two boats owned by a man who formerly raised minks in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. They also committed tree spikings (hammering a long nail into a tree in order create shrapnel injuries when cut by logging tools such as a chainsaw) in Indiana and set fires at four homes under construction in the Detroit area, among other criminal acts.
Two other individuals have been sentenced in connection with the MSU arson, both on charges that they helped to cover for Mason and Ambrose. Aren Bernard Burthwick, 28, of Detroit, was sentenced to 14 months in prison, one year supervised release and a $2,000 fine. Stephanie Lynn Fultz, 28, also of Detroit, was sentenced to two years probation and 100 hours of community service.
All four were indicted in connection the MSU fire in March 2008.
Mason and Ambrose committed the arson at MSU's Agriculture Hall on December 31, 1999, in protest against a federally-funded research program on genetically modified crops taking place there. They entered an office that housed records related to the program and doused computers, file cabinets and desks with flammable liquids.
No one was injured in the fire that ensued, but it caught Mason's hair and prevented her from finishing a message she was spray-painting that read, "No GMO," referring to genetically modified organisms.
ELF claimed responsibility for the fire in a communiqué released in the weeks that followed. In the statement, ELF described the act as a response to "one of the many threats to the natural world as we know it," referring to genetic engineering that is funded and promoted by corporations.
ELF also accused Monsanto, the agricultural company that co-funded the MSU research program with the United States Agency for International Development, of intentionally fostering developing nations' dependence on its research and products. ELF called for Monsanto's "cremation" and an end to genetic engineering.
Mason, 47, was sentenced to 21 years and 10 months on February 5, 2009, in a Michigan federal court. The Detroit-area native was ordered to pay $4.1 million in restitution to MSU and to victims of other arsons in which she participated. Mason, who was tried as a domestic terrorist, will remain on supervised release for life upon her release from prison.
Mason pleaded guilty on three charges of conspiracy and arson in September 2008. As part of her plea agreement, she admitted involvement in other acts of vandalism that caused $3 million worth of damage, including a fire that damaged commercial logging equipment in northern Michigan the day after the MSU arson.
Chief U.S. Chief District Judge Paul Maloney took Mason's other criminal acts into account in his sentencing for her role in the MSU arson. During the sentencing hearing, Maloney described Mason as a "high risk" to repeat her crimes and described as "beyond the pale" her inclusion of Rodney Coronado among her "heroes" on her MySpace page. Coronado, a veteran animal rights advocate, served over three years in prison for his role in a 1992 firebombing of an animal research laboratory at MSU that caused $2.5 million in damage.
Maloney also referred to Mason's acts as an "abandonment of the marketplace of ideas" and noted that by committing the acts, Mason "elevated her grievances beyond the norms of civilized society."
Mason spoke at the hearing, saying she was "wrong" and "misguided" and adding, "I am genuinely sorry to those who were personally frightened by my actions... I meant to inspire thought and compassion, not fear."
Mason's defense lawyer has indicated that he will appeal the sentence, which was nearly two years longer than the 20-year sentence recommended by the prosecutors and longer than any sentence upheld for an environmental or animal rights extremist. Jeffrey Luers, who was originally sentenced to 22 years for his role in a 2000 arson attack that destroyed 36 SUVs in Eugene, Oregon, had his sentence reduced to 10 years in 2008.
The FBI raided Frank Ambrose's home in spring 2007 after materials belonging to him, including gas masks, an M-80 explosive, and maps and anti-government writings, surfaced in a nearby trash bin.
Ambrose, 34, became an FBI informant shortly thereafter. He traveled outside the state seven times to gather intelligence and recorded 178 conversations with various activists, implicating himself and others in multiple unsolved criminal acts committed by environmental extremists.
Though Ambrose admitted he set the fire at MSU, his guilty plea in connection with the arson, entered in March 2008, was on charges of conspiracy to commit the act. He also took responsibility in his plea agreement for 11 other acts committed between 1999 and 2003, including six arsons of boats and homes in Michigan and Indiana, and a fire that damaged logging equipment in northern Michigan the day after the MSU arson. Ambrose originally faced a maximum prison sentence of 20 years, but received leniency for his cooperation with authorities, according to the Justice Department.
On October 20, 2008, Chief Judge Maloney sentenced Ambrose to nine years in prison and $3.7 million in restitution payments to MSU and victims of other acts of arson and property destruction.
Ambrose expressed regret and apologized to MSU and other victims of his actions, stating, "I wish I could take all I did back. I've changed significantly from all those years where I did the bad things."
Ambrose began serving a nine-year prison sentence in December 2008. Like Mason, he received a lifetime of supervisory release upon his release from prison.