Admitted pipeline vandalizer fights racketeering lawsuit

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A Phoenix woman who has publicly admitted to vandalism along the route of the Dakota Access oil pipeline in two states is asking a judge to dismiss her as a defendant in a $1 billion federal racketeering lawsuit filed by the pipeline developer.

Ruby Montoya was one of millions of people around the world who shared a "common purpose" of stopping the $3.8 billion pipeline built to move North Dakota oil to Illinois, and Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners has failed to show any link between her and a criminal enterprise, said defense attorney Lauren Regan with the Civil Liberties Defense Center.

"Advocating for the protection of the climate through a reduction in fossil fuel infrastructure is on its face constitutionally protected, and not a basis for a RICO claim," Regan wrote in a recent court filing.

ETP sued Earth First, BankTrack and Greenpeace in August 2017, alleging they worked to undermine the pipeline project and the company. A judge later dismissed both Earth First and BankTrack as defendants and criticized the lawsuit for being vague. The company added five individuals as defendants in August 2018 , including Montoya and Jessica Reznicek.

The two women in July 2017 released a public statement admitted to damaging valves and setting fire to construction equipment along the pipeline route in Iowa and South Dakota.

Regan notes that neither woman has been criminally charged. She also refutes ETP allegations that Montoya was a spokeswoman for the anti-pipeline group Mississippi Stand and was trained in "eco-terrorist techniques" through Earth First.

U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson ruled last year that ETP had failed to make a case that Earth First is an entity that can be sued. The Center for Constitutional Rights had argued that Earth First is a philosophy or movement similar to Black Lives Matter, and thus can't be sued.

"Plaintiffs cannot seem to grasp the fact that (Earth First) is not an organization and does not have 'members,'" Regan wrote, maintaining that Mississippi Stand is similarly an entity with no structure or leadership.

Montoya has no connection with any other defendants in the lawsuit other than Reznicek, who has not yet been served with the lawsuit, Regan wrote.

"Plaintiffs have failed to adequately allege Montoya's membership in or association with plaintiff's paranoid, farcical and manufactured conspiracy theory," she said.

ETP's lawsuit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act alleges that the defendants disseminated false and misleading information about the project and interfered with its construction through violent and criminal means, damaging the company's reputation and finances.

Opposition by groups and American Indian tribes who feared environmental harm inspired large protests in southern North Dakota and resulted in 761 arrests over a six-month span beginning in late 2016. The pipeline has been operating since June 2017.

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