2 charged in cross-country anti-fur crimes

Prosecutors say their alleged actions weren’t merely illegal, but a form of domestic terrorism.

The Oakland pair was arrested Friday by the FBI, accused of embarking on a 40,000-mile cross-country rampage on the fur industry. Their actions caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego said.

Kissane, 28, who used to live in Escondido, and Buddenberg, 31, originally from Virginia Beach, have been indicted on charges of conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. Both were expected to be transferred from Oakland to San Diego to face the charges.

Vintage furs at Furs by Graf.— Louie Juarez

“We’ve been targeted over 30 years by these terrorists and we’re pleased law enforcement is able to apprehend people,” said Kimberley Graf, whose family owns the San Diego fur shop that was vandalized.

The covert road trips occurred the summer and fall of 2013, according to the indictment unsealed Friday.

It began in June 2013, when they drove from Portland, Ore., to Southern California in a Honda Fit, the indictment states.

On July 15, 2013, according to the charges, the pair trashed Furs by Graf in Kearny Mesa. The San Diego store was spray-painted – markings that included the words “killer” and “murder” – and the windows were destroyed with etching materials. Acid was sprayed into the shop and glue was put on the door locks.

Acid, paint and paint stripper were also used on the La Mesa and Spring Valley homes of store manager Graf and her parents. Graf said she hopes her family will be able to recover restitution for the damage incurred.

The court document lays out Buddenberg and Kissane’s alleged cross-country path after that:

• In Montana, they are accused of releasing a bobcat from Frazier Fur Farm in Plains, then the next day vandalizing the vehicles of the police chief in Darby, who is disliked by animal-rights activists, according to the indictment.

• In Idaho, they released about 1,800 mink from the Moyle Mink Ranch in Burley and destroyed the breeding grounds there, the indictment alleges.

• In the Bay Area, they allegedly glued the locks of various animal-related businesses, slashed the tires on several trucks of a meat distributor and broke windows of a market, the indictment says.

• In Minnesota, they allegedly smashed the windows and glued the locks of Ribnick Fur and Leather in Minneapolis, and later freed about 440 mink from Myhre Mink Ranch in Grand Meadow.

• In Wisconsin, they are accused of vandalizing and trying to flood the Sun Prairie home of an employee of North American Fur Auctions, and later releasing about 2,000 mink from Bonlander Farms in New Holstein.

• In Iowa, the indictment says, they freed up to 500 mink from the Donald B. Conrad Fur Farm in Keota.

• In Pennsylvania, they released 1,000 mink from Rykola Mink Farm in Ebensburg, according to the indictment.

“Communiqués” publicizing their actions were posted on websites associated with animal-rights extremism, authorities said. In the San Diego attack, a Florida animal-rights website posted a message from the Animal Liberation Front that claimed responsibility for the vandalism. The indictment does not mention whether Buddenberg and Kissane are part of any organization.

Authorities say the pair carefully planned the excursions and tried to stay off the grid to avoid detection by law enforcement.

They used only cash during their trips and avoided phones to avoid leaving traces, the indictment says. They are also accused of using encrypted email and public computers to access the Internet while on the road.

The pair were unemployed – although public records show Kissane has a cosmetology license – and raised money for their road trips by selling items on eBay and Amazon, authorities said.

In November and December 2013, authorities allege, the pair were in possession of various tools to carry out the crimes, including acid, wire cutters, handwritten lists of fur farms, latex gloves, super glue, walkie-talkies, a knife, encrypted computers and headlamps.

“Whatever your feelings about the fur industry, there are legal ways to make your opinions known,” U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said in a statement. “The conduct alleged here, sneaking around at night, stealing property and vandalizing homes and businesses with acid, glue, and chemicals, is a form of domestic terrorism and can’t be permitted to continue.”

The alleged spree was investigated by Joint Terrorism Task Forces around the country, said San Diego’s FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric Birnbaum.

Jerry Vlasak, a press officer with the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, emphasized that the pair are innocent until proven otherwise.

He said in his opinion, forms of economic sabotage and the liberation of animals are legitimate tactics to use as part of the animal rights movement.

“Whoever did these actions are heroes in our book. We support them 100 percent,” Vlasak said.

He added that the “terrorism” label is describing the wrong side. “These people are abusing animals, taking fur-bearing animals, keeping them in cages, anally electrocuting them, skinning them and selling their fur to make a fashion statement and profit. If anyone is terrorizing anyone, it’s those terrorizing these animals.”

This is not the first arrest for Buddenberg. He and three others were charged in 2009 in connection with violent protests outside the homes of UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley scientists. Buddenberg lived in Berkeley at the time.

One of the other activists charged was an Oceanside man. The federal case was ultimately dismissed.