FBI, police, deputies look into claims by animal-rights activists

By Teri Figueroa2013_fursbygraf
July 23, 2013

SAN DIEGO — The FBI and local authorities confirmed Monday they are investigating vandalism that self-styled animal-rights “anarchists” claimed to have done last week at San Diego’s only fur shop, as well as at the homes of the store’s owners.

The Animal Liberation Front, which the FBI has labeled a domestic terror threat, has taken credit for the damage at the Furs by Graf store in Clairemont and at the owners’ East County residences.

The group, affiliated with the Earth Liberation Front, has launched attacks in recent years on research labs and companies that use animals in experiments. It also has protested at stores that sell furs.

The fur store on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, near Convoy Street, was spray-painted, and its windows were covered with eroding etching solution in the attack that occurred on July 14 or early July 15. Acid was sprayed into the shop, and glue put in the door locks.

Acid, paint stripper and spray paint also were used to vandalize the East County homes of the elderly store owners and one of their daughters, Kimberley Graf.

Last week, a Florida-based animal-rights magazine published on its website a statement from the Animal Liberation Front claiming responsibility. Jerry Vlasak, a spokesman for the group, said Monday he understands the vandalism was done on behalf of the organization, but he does not have “personal knowledge of it.”

The local Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes the FBI, San Diego Police Department and Sheriff’s Department, is looking into the attacks at the Furs by Graf store and the owners’ homes.

Investigators searching for suspects and a motive will not “turn a blind eye” to the Animal Liberation Front’s claim, FBI spokesman Darrell Foxworth said.

The group has no formal membership. Vlasak said it is made up of people who take actions following the group’s guidelines, which include freeing animals from sites such as laboratories and factory farms, inflicting economic damage and not harming people or animals in the process.

“At some point, all of the perfectly legal and other forms of protest have been ineffective at stopping these people from abusing animals,” Vlasak said.

About six weeks ago, the Animal Liberation Front released an updated version of a 1996 guide to raiding fur farms. Since then, Vlasak said, he has seen an uptick in attacks on fur shops, which are easier for the average activist to find.

“These people profit off torture to make a fashion statement,” Vlasak said. “Anybody ridiculous or cruel enough (to do so) is going to be targeted.”

Graf and her family woke up July 15 to find the damage to their homes and vehicles. The words “killer” and “murder” were spray-painted on the family’s store, which has since reopened.

Graf said the family — furriers in San Diego since 1929 — would not be deterred by the vandals. “We are stubborn Germans,” she said.

The family’s shop was last vandalized by activists three to five years ago, she said. But last week’s attack marked the first time their homes have been targeted.

Ten years ago, the furrier was hit on the same night — Aug. 1, 2003 — that arson destroyed a five-story, 206-unit condo complex under construction in University City. Activist group Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility for that blaze, which caused $50 million in damage.

Anyone with information about the recent vandalism was asked to call the task force at (858) 320-1800 or online at https://tips.fbi.gov.