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Urfer to serve 5 months

Will not pay for poles cut during ELF facility protest

Thursday, Dec. 13, 2001


Special to the ASHLAND (WISCONSIN) Daily Press

MADISON -- A protester who defied a court order to pay for the damage she did to the U.S. Navy ELF antenna system was sentenced Wednesday in federal court to five months in prison.

After serving a six-month prison term for cutting down three poles of the ELF antenna grid, Bonnie L. Urfer, 47, of Luck, has refused to pay any of the $7,492 restitution Federal Magistrate Stephen Crocker ordered Urfer and co-defendant Michael Sprong to pay to the Navy and a company that replaced the poles.

"It would be a prostitution of her beliefs to engage in the behavior and then pay to have the poles put back up," Urfer's attorney Margaret Danielson, told Crocker.

Urfer's defended her act of act of civil disobedience at trial last February, contending it was obeying international law which has outlawed the use of first-strike nuclear weapons, of which ELF is a component. Urfer and Sprong claimed that nuclear weapons posed an imminent danger to the world's safety and they were justified in disabling ELF, which is used to communicate with submerged submarines which carry nuclear missiles.

On Wednesday Crocker found Urfer in violation of her probation but instead of more prison, Danielson asked Crocker to let Urfer satisfy her restitution obligation with a $1,000 check for use by patients of a Veteran's Hospital. "A year in prison would only cost the taxpayers money and may encourage others to take her place," Danielson said.

Danielson asked Crocker to liken Urfer's offer to that of a conscientious objector who drives an ambulance during a war and not a tank. Because of her financial situation, it would be doubtful if Urfer could ever repay the government and would never contribute to the Navy's cause, Danielson said. Statues allow restitution to other parties if the victims agree, but Assistant U.S. Attorney John Vaudreuil refused to comply.

"Defendants don't get to pick and choose who will be compensated and which court orders they will follow," he said.

Nearly all of defendants ordered to pay restitution pay some amount, said Vaudreuil. Even Sprong, who after serving a two-month sentence, has paid "$20 here and there," said Vaudreuil. Vaudreuil refused to make an exception for Urfer despite how noble she thought her proposal to be.

Crocker agreed that court orders have to be respected but never believed that Urfer would pay any restitution to repair a military installation. He expected Urfer would rather serve a year in prison than pay but said the government could still obtain a civil judgment for the amount of restitution Urfer owes.

Eleven months in prison, close to the offense's maximum punishment, was what Crocker had expected Urfer to serve and he said he was not going to grant Vaudreuil's request for Urfer to serve more than that amount.

Urfer was prepared to immediately start serving her sentence but after Crocker asked her to reconsider, Urfer agreed to wait until after the holidays and report on Jan. 4.

"I would have preferred to go right away, but my mother would be so happy if I would be home for Christmas... and this way I will still be home for next Christmas too," Urfer said after court.