Rebecca Rubin, Vail arson conspirator, ordered to serve five years, read Malcolm Gladwell book

A federal judge in Oregon has sentenced environmental activist Rebecca Rubin to five years behind bars -- and to read a Malcom Gladwell book -- for her role in setting several fires, including a 1998 act of arson in Vail that caused $12 million in damage.

As a member of a radical environmental group known as The Family, Rubin, a 39-year-old Canadian citizen, hit targets across the western U.S., freeing horses from a ranch in California and helping set incendiary devices in a logging company's office in Oregon.

But the group's most famous action took place in Colorado in 1998, when members of The Family burned down Vail Mountain's Twin Elks Lodge and damaged several chairlifts in response to the resort's planned expansion into Blue Sky Bowl, which opponents feared would damage Canadian lynx habitat.

After spending almost eight years as a fugitive, Rubin surrendered to the FBI at the Washington border last October. That same month, she pleaded guilty to arson, attempted arson and conspiracy to commit arson in connection with four different incidents.

In a letter to the court, Rubin apologized for her role in the fires, and said she had "lost everything and everybody," including her career as a veterinary assistant, when she went underground in 2005 to avoid capture.

"I left behind my belongings, my family, my friends, a job and co-workers that I love, and all sense of safety and security," she wrote. "My entire world fell away: I lost all external bearings and some internal ones."

In sentencing Rubin to five years, the lowest penalty possible under federal law, Chief U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken said that she had shown remorse for her actions and had already suffered during her years on the lam. Prosecutors had asked for a seven-and-a-half-year term, pointing to Rubin's refusal to provide information on her co-conspirators. Two of the latter -- Joseph Mahmoud Dibee and Josephine Sunshine Overaker -- are believed to be hiding abroad, according to the Vail Daily.

Rubin's attorneys had asked Aiken for five years, arguing in a sentencing memorandum that their client only played a supporting role in many of the arsons, such as carrying fuel to the site of the Vail fire.

Besides doing time, Rubin will have to repay $13 million in damages when she gets out of prison. Aiken also sentenced her to read Malcom Gladwell's 2013 book David and Goliath and Nature's Trust by Mary Wood, an environmental law professor at the Universty of Oregon, with the stated hope of steering Rubin toward legal, non-violent methods of advocating for the environment.

Rubin isn't the first member of The Family to face charges over the group's crimes. In 2007, Chelsea Gerlach received a nine-year prison sentence for her part in the Vail arson and other actions. (She got more time than Rubin in part because Aiken, who also presided over her trial, ruled that some of Gerlach's offenses were subject to a "terrorism enhancement.") The cell's alleged leader, William "Avalon" Rodgers, committed suicide in 2005 while in custody in Arizona.

Continue for a larger look at Rubin's mug shot and the sentencing memoranda from her trial.

Defense sentencing memorandum

Government sentencing memorandum

More from our Mile Highs and Lows archive circa December 2013: "New York tourist rips Vail in hilarious letter because people were talking about pot."

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