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Originally published July 27, 2011 at 5:06 PM | Page modified July 27, 2011 at 8:16 PM

UW eco-arson suspect pleads not guilty

The man accused of building the firebomb used by Earth Liberation Front activists to torch the University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture in 2001 pleaded not guilty Wednesday to several federal charges.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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TACOMA — The man accused of building the firebomb used by Earth Liberation Front radicals to torch the University of Washington's Center for Urban Horticulture in 2001 pleaded not guilty Wednesday to several federal charges.

Justin Solondz, 31, was arrested July 6 in Chicago after his expulsion from China, where he had been serving a prison term for selling drugs.

A former student at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Solondz is charged with conspiracy, arson, making an unregistered destructive device and using a destructive device during a violent crime, a charge that could result in a life sentence.

After the hearing in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, Solondz's attorney said his client was glad to be back in the United States.

Solondz was a purported member of a cell of radical environmentalists known as "The Family" who are believed to have participated in a string of arsons and other sabotage that caused $80 million in damage in Washington, Oregon, California and Colorado.

Prosecutors allege that Solondz built a firebomb in a "clean room" behind a home in Olympia, transported it to Seattle and served as the getaway driver the night of the UW arson.

The firebomb was planted in the office of UW professor Toby Bradshaw at the Center for Urban Horticulture. Bradshaw was targeted because the arsonists believed, mistakenly, he was genetically engineering trees.

Damage from the arson was estimated at more than $6 million.

In June, Briana Waters pleaded guilty to charges of arson, conspiracy to use a destructive device, possessing an unregistered destructive device and the use of an explosive device in a crime of violence in connection with the arson. She agreed to testify against Solondz, whose trial is scheduled for Sept. 19.

Waters, 35, is Solondz's former girlfriend.

Two other women, Lacey Phillabaum and Jennifer Kolar, pleaded guilty to the UW arson and were sentenced to three and five years, respectively.

Also charged in the UW arson was William C. Rodgers, who committed suicide in an Arizona jail in December 2005.

Solondz was indicted in Washington state and California in 2006. The FBI issued a $50,000 reward in late 2008 for information leading to his arrest. At the time, the FBI said he might be in Canada, Europe or Asia.

He surfaced in Dali, a Chinese city popular with Western tourists, using a phony Canadian identification and an altered appearance. He was arrested in a drug investigation in March 2009.

Paul Solondz said his son did not flee the United States to avoid prosecution, according to The Associated Press. He said Solondz went to Italy for a wedding in 2005 and traveled from there, visiting Holocaust sites in Europe before going to Russia and China.

He entered China with a valid visa and renewed it twice, his father said.

Information from Seattle Times archives and The Associated Press is included in this report.

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