AETA Appeal Reportedly ‘Flounders’ in 7th Circuit

Based on the “critical” questions and statements of a three-judge panel at a September 21 hearing, Court House News reported the appeal of Kevin Johnson’s conviction under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) “flounders.”  Johnson received a three-year prison sentence for attacking a mink farm near Chicago in 2013 (U.S. v. Johnson).  At the hearing, Rachel Meeropol of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CRR) argued on appeal that such prosecution was unlawful because the AETA was unconstitutional. This argument against the AETA has been made repeatedly by animal rights attorneys. Four courts, including  two federal Courts of Appeal, have found the law constitutional.   The U.S. Supreme Court denied a request to review the issues in Blum v. Holder.

U.S. Circuit Judge Ann Williams noted she had "a big problem" with the argument. "The definition of animal enterprise is very clear under the statute, and traveling interstate to free 2,000 minks is the kind of crime this statute envisions," Williams added.  After Meeropol claimed the statute was overbroad and might cover throwing a stone through a Whole Foods window or the financial losses allegedly caused by the film “Blackfish”, Judge Williams remained unconvinced.  "The statute specifically says that it doesn't cover expressive activity protected by the First Amendment or lawful economic disruption," the judge said. The other two federal district court judges on the panel also made comments critical of the appeal. When Meeropol attempted to reiterate her arguments, Court House News said the court “seemed too disinterested to question her further and certainly disinclined to invalidate the statute.”

Florida Judge Rules Primate Breeding Facility Approvals Did Not Violate Sunshine Law

A Hendry County judge has ruled against an animal rights group suing over the county's handling of monkey breeding farms. The Animal Legal Defense Fund, on behalf of three county residents, filed a lawsuit alleging county officials violated the Florida Sunshine Law by permitting two primate breeding companies to build or expand facilities in its jurisdiction.

Judge James Sloan ruled the county did not violate state open records laws when it met with officials representing the companies. The judge said Sunshine Laws only apply to boards and commissions, not the staff that work for those elected bodies.  “We are pleased with Judge Sloan’s ruling upholding our constant assertions that Hendry County did not violate Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law. Our legal team is to be commended, especially County Attorney Mark Lapp,” says Charles Chapman, County Administrator. “Hendry County continues to stand by the rights provided to our property owners contained within the language of our comprehensive plan and land development code.”

The case has attracted local media attention.  One report said about 30 spectators, including independent journalist Jane Velez-Mitchell, attended the first day of the bench trail.

Are Research Rats, Mice, and Birds Protected Species?

It is often said by the animal rights community that research animals like rodents, birds, and fish are not protected by federal laws.  Yesterday, the blog Speaking of Research addressed this confusion and outlined the protections granted to these animals in research and testing despite the claims of anti-research activists.

Although not covered by the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), rodents, birds and fish bred for research are federally protected.   Under the Health Research Extension Act (HREA), statutory authority is granted to the Public Health Service (PHS) Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (PHS Policy).  Institutions receiving federal funds must comply with PHS Policy which contains extensive information on procedures and the care of live vertebrate animals.  This policy, overseen by the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW), has the authority to suspend projects and even cease funding if violations of PHS Policy are found.  Finally, at the institutional level, private accreditations and the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) provides oversight and public transparency for the research.

To read Speaking of Research’s interesting coverage of this myth, please click here.

One of the ‘AETA 4’ Sentenced to Two Years in Prison

Joseph Buddenberg has been sentenced to two years in federal prison for a cross-country fur-industry vandalism and mink-liberation campaign.  Buddendberg was previously known as one of the “AETA 4,” after he faced charges in California for alleged illegal activity against researchers in 2008.  That charge, the first under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA), was dismissed in 2010 for lack of indictment documentation. At his sentencing last week, Buddenberg also was ordered by the federal court to pay restitution of $398,272. He pleaded guilty in February to a charge of conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA),  A codefendant, Nicole Kissane, pleaded guilty to the same charge and is due to be sentenced in June. She will share in payment of the restitution ordered.

The two were arrested in July 2014, charged with participating in a concerted campaign against the fur industry in the summer and fall of 2013 that totaled some 40,000 miles in covert travel before it was over. The pair’s months-long crime spree in at least 5 states is outlined in this Los Angeles Times article.  A Newsweek article, Animal Activists Are Shouting out Their Crimes Online, gives more background on Buddenberg and Kissane, as well as other extremists boasting about their actions anonymously.

Newsweek Profiles Convicted Animal Rights Extremists

On March 23, Newsweek published a report about the conviction under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) of Kevin Johnson (a.k.a. Olliff) and Tyler Lang, “Mink on the Run: Animal 'Terrorists' Smacked by Federal Prosecutors.”

The article outlines the events leading to the arrest and prosecution of Johnson and Lang, including the release of 2,000 mink and the aftermath of their attack.  Not only were dozens of the released mink killed by roadway traffic, but the victims were forced to close their business and lost their retirement savings.  Unfortunately, the article does not include a statement from victims about the destruction of their business and minimizes the nature of the crimes committed by the pair, their criminal histories, and the evidence presented against them.

You will recall that Judge St. Eve sentenced Lang to three months time already served, six months of house arrest, six months community confinement and one year of supervised release. He is also required to make a $200,000 restitution payment to the farm operators.  "This is a very serious offense that caused a substantial loss to the victim. It wiped out their business and life savings," St. Eve said at Lang's sentencing hearing, reported the Chicago Tribune. "You destroyed their feelings of security and their trust of others, in addition to their business. Johnson received a three-year prison sentence and was ordered to make a $200,000 restitution payment.

To read the Newsweek article, please click here.

Second Activist Sentenced in AETA Case

Tyler Lang, an animal rights activist from California, was sentenced Wednesday for his involvement in the 2013 raid of a fur farm in Morris, IL.  In handing down the sentence, U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve called Tyler Lang's actions "counterproductive," noting that hundreds of the minks died and many others suffered.  Judge St. Eve sentenced Lang to three months time already served, six months of house arrest, six months community confinement and one year of supervised release. He is also required to make a $200,000 restitution payment to the farm operators.  "This is a very serious offense that caused a substantial loss to the victim. It wiped out their business and life savings," St. Eve said at Lang's sentencing hearing, reported the Chicago Tribune. "You destroyed their feelings of security and their trust of others, in addition to their business."

Lang and his partner in crime Kevin Johnson (a.k.a. Olliff) were on a cross-country journey to sabotage animal farms when they were stopped by police a few days after the Morris incident. They were arrested in possession of tools and masks while staking out a fox farm near Peoria, which they planned to sabotage as well, authorities said.  The pair was convicted of conspiracy under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA).  Last month, Johnson received a three-year prison sentence and was ordered to make a $200,000 restitution payment.  In a statement, Lang and Johnson's support team said "Tyler and Kevin's case should be a reminder to us all that we have to show each other love and support in the face of State oppression."

Australian Senate Rejects Legislation Banning the Importation of Primates for Research

As you know, the transportation of lab animals for lifesaving and life-improving biomedical research is an important concern for the scientific community.  Animal rights activists opposing animal research have made it a target in their ongoing efforts to curtail medical progress for both humans and animals and these efforts have not been based solely focused on the United States.  Just last week, the Australian Senate decided not to pass legislation that would have prohibited the importation of nonhuman primates (NHP) for biomedical research.

This proposal was made late last year based on concerns that primates being imported into the country were wild-caught and that there was no need for importation given the fact that breeding colonies already existed in Australia.  The importation of wild-caught NHP’s is already prohibited in Australia.  A report by the Australian Senate even noted that passage of this legislation was the first step towards outlawing animal research in that country.  After hearing common-sense arguments from scientists in Australia and across the globe, legislators in Australia rejected the bill.

To read more about this important development, please read the report by the European Animal Research Association (EARA).  Please take a moment to visit NABR’s page on transportation, “No Cargo, No Cure,” to learn more about the transportation of animals for research.

Neuroscience Leaders Say Responsible Animal Research Critical for Brain Research Progress

Society for Neuroscience (SfN) president Hollis Cline and Mar Sanchez, chair of the SfN Committee on Animals in Research, have responded to a National Public Radio (NPR) commentary by Samuel Garner claiming “The ‘Necessity’ of Animal Research Does Not Mean It’s Ethical.”

The SFN leaders first noted the Garner piece “does not reflect the unassailable reality that responsible animal research remains essential to advance our understanding of the brain and to treat its diseases. Given the tremendous human and economic toll of brain disorders worldwide—including autism, depression, schizophrenia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease—it is among those areas of research in which continued progress is most critically needed.”  They then describe the ways in which “animal research is conducted under extensive regulation and oversight to assure humane and compassionate animal care.”

Read their full letter here on the SFN website.

Animal Extremist Sentenced to Three Years and $200,000 in Restitution

In federal court Monday, February 29, Kevin Johnson was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay $200,000 in restitution to the fur farm owner victims of his sabotage, according to the Chicago Tribune.  Johnson, 29, pleaded guilty last year to one count of conspiring to travel across state lines to interfere with the operations of an animal enterprise, a violation of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). In handing down the sentence, U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve said she was troubled by the "escalation" of Johnson's activism over the years and that previous stints behind bars had not seemed to deter him. She also noted that his actions on the mink farm caused suffering for many of the animals he professed to want to save. In all, more than 550 of the minks died, many painfully, the judge said.  The fur farm owners were forced to close their longstanding business and lost their retirement funds in the process. Before he was sentenced, Johnson choked back tears and apologized for the attack, saying he has finally realized after nearly a decade of arrests that committing criminal acts was not an acceptable form of protest.

“(Johnson) has stalked, stolen, harassed, and threatened to make his point," Assistant U.S. Attorney Bethany Biesenthal wrote in a court filing, "... his past shows an escalating dangerousness."  Records show Johnson has a long criminal record in California starting in 2006. Video from the protests depicted him screaming into a bullhorn outside Pom Wonderful executives' homes, threatening to harm them and their families, according to prosecutors. Three years later, Johnson was arrested after threatening UCLA professors over their use of animals in research. He later pleaded guilty to criminal stalking and served about 1 1/2 years in prison, prosecutors said.  In May 2012, five months after his release on parole, Johnson was arrested for shoplifting and inciting a riot, prosecutors said. Later that year he was arrested again for attempting to burglarize a pharmacy, and when authorities searched a laptop computer found in Johnson's car, they found personal information about scientific researchers and their families, according to prosecutors.

An accomplice, Tyler Lang of Los Angeles, also pleaded guilty last year to the same charge as Johnson.  Lang is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge St. Eve on March 23, 2016.

Two Plead Guilty to AETA Conspiracy Charges; Federal Prison Sentences and Nearly $400,000 in Restitution Expected

Two animal extremists pled guilty to federal criminal charges and entered plea agreements according to the San Diego Unit-Tribune.

Joseph Buddenberg and Nicole Kissane each admitted in San Diego federal court last week to conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). Prosecutors and defense lawyers reportedly plan to jointly recommend a two-year sentence for Buddenberg and six months for Kissane. The pair also admitted that their actions caused more than $100,000 in damage. They have agreed to pay $398,000 in restitution to several victims, including Furs By Graf, a San Diego business that was vandalized, and to seven mink farms and two other businesses around the country.

A previous AETA indictment of Buddenberg was ultimately dismissed for insufficient details.  The same cannot be said about the indictment in this case.  It is extremely thorough, documenting the pair’s four cross-country trips to terrorize fur farms as well as their financial dealings, including selling stolen goods on eBay to pay for their travels, among other pieces of evidence.  A long list of potential prosecution witnesses was also presented.

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