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March 11, 2008

Four arrested in 1999 New Year’s Eve Agriculture Hall arson

EAST LANSING, Mich. – Eight years after Michigan State University’s Agriculture Hall burned in a New Year’s Eve attack, four people have been arrested, the MSU police, U.S. Attorney and FBI announced today. 

Two Detroit men, a Detroit woman and a woman from Cincinnati, Ohio, have been indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit arson, aggravated arson and arson in connection with the Dec. 31, 1999, attack on Agriculture Hall. The charges also are in connection with arson of commercial logging equipment near Mesick, Mich., on Jan. 1, 2000. 

“This was more than an attack on a building and the destruction of valuable property,” said MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon. “This was an assault on the core value of free and open inquiry at a research university. We always must be open to ideas that challenge our own, but what we must never allow are disruptions meant to shut down the open marketplace of ideas.” 

The attack on the northeast corner of Agriculture Hall reduced the office of the Agriculture Biotechnology Support Project to little more than cinders and melted computers. The fire did some $1 million worth of damage. No one was injured. Shortly after the fire, a loosely organized environmental movement called the Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility. 

ABSP is a federally funded project that works with private and public institutions to enhance the use, management and commercialization of agricultural biotechnology in developing countries. The ABSP office at MSU was not a research facility but an office responsible for administering the ABSP program. Damage was limited to project data, most of which was duplicated in other offices on campus. 

Indicted are Marie Jeanette Mason, 46, of Cincinnati; Frank Brian Ambrose, 33, of Detroit; Aren Bernard Burthwick, 27, of Detroit; and Stephanie Lynne Fultz, 27, of Detroit. 

MSU police chief James Dunlap was joined in today’s announcement by U.S. Attorney Charles Gross and FBI Special Agent in Charge Andrew Arena, as well as MSU president Simon.

The eight-year investigation took MSU officers across 10 states from coast to coast, Dunlap said. It is the second time an act of domestic terrorism at MSU has resulted in indictments.

On Feb. 28, 1992, arsonists attacked the offices of two faculty members in Anthony Hall and vandalized campus mink research facilities. 

The fire destroyed the office of animal science researchers Richard Aulerich and Karen Chou. While Aulerich was the target, Chou lost years of research that was aimed at testing animal DNA as a method of minimizing live-animal experimentation. 

Damage from that attack was assessed at $1.2 million. The Animal Liberation Front claimed responsibility. 

In July 1993, Rodney Coronado was indicted by a federal grand jury for the Anthony Hall fire. In March 1995, Coronado, in a plea agreement, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting arson in connection with the MSU fire, as well as to crimes at other sites. He was sentenced to two concurrent 57-month prison terms. He also was ordered to pay MSU $1.3 million to cover the losses, and another $1.2 million in restitution to five other universities, businesses and parks that suffered losses in other attacks and thefts.

As with this case, MSU police along with federal authorities, chased leads across the country. 

“This was a significant act of domestic terrorism which caused more than a million dollars in damage to facilities and loss of research records,” Dunlap said. “As a result, the university dedicated an unprecedented amount of resources and personnel to investigate this crime, and the Michigan State University Police Department appreciates the cooperation of both the FBI and the United States Attorney’s Office in the joint investigation of this case and the resulting federal indictment.”

For more information and downloadable photos, see the Special Report.


Michigan State University has been advancing knowledge and transforming lives through innovative teaching, research and outreach for more than 150 years. MSU is known internationally as a major public university with global reach and extraordinary impact. Its 17 degree-granting colleges attract scholars worldwide who are interested in combining education with practical problem solving.