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Santa Monica and FBI target animal activists

November 03, 2006|Joe Mozingo | Times Staff Writer

Santa Monica police and FBI agents raided the homes of several controversial animal rights activists this week as part of an investigation into the underground Animal Liberation Front.

Among the targets were Dr. Jerry Vlasak and his wife, Pamelyn Ferdin, two well-known activists who regularly protest against Los Angeles animal services officials. They were not at their Agoura Hills home when police conducted the search. Vlasak said an officer had to enter through a pet door to get inside.

Santa Monica Police Capt. Alex Padilla said officers served search warrants in Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange counties on Tuesday. He would not provide details of the probe beyond saying that it was "an ongoing criminal stalking and conspiracy investigation involving members of the Animal Liberation Front."

An activist involved in protesting animal testing by the Santa Monica-based POM Wonderful company, the world's largest producer of pomegranate juice, said his home and those of others involved in the animal rights cause were raided.

The activists say the company has funded cruel experiments on mice and rabbits to prove the health benefits of the juice. They have said they have no affiliation with Vlasak and are in no way terrorists.

The search warrant for Vlasak's home authorized the seizure of any evidence of affiliation with the Animal Liberation Front, as well as evidence pertaining to POM Wonderful.

According to the search warrant, police seized computer equipment, animal rights books, pamphlets, T-shirts, fliers, a stuffed animal and "duffel bags w/ wrist rocket, 3/8" shot," an apparent reference to a type of slingshot. The FBI would not comment on the case.

The Animal Liberation Front is a shadowy network that has sabotaged animal research labs, vandalized homes of researchers, firebombed properties and made numerous death threats. Because it has no known leadership structure or membership, anyone can strike under the group's name. The FBI has called it a domestic terror threat.

Vlasak, a trauma surgeon, runs a website called the Animal Liberation Press Office that publishes "communiques" from people claiming to have committed sabotage or other acts on behalf of the Animal Liberation Front and other underground groups. He says he does not know who any members of the front are, but simply receives their messages anonymously and publishes them.

"I don't do anything illegal," he said. "We're just press officers. It seems like this is just an attack on above-ground people because they don't know who the underground people are."

joe.mozingo@latimes.com

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