BURLEY, Idaho — A pair of animal activists accused of wreaking havoc at an Idaho mink farm during a cross-country crime spree are now facing federal charges.
Thirty-one-year-old Joseph Buddenberg and 28-year-old Nicole Kissane were indicted Friday on charges of conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Anti-Terrorism Act.
According to investigators, the pair embarked on a months-long, 40,000-mile trip across the United States in 2013. Along the way they released a bobcat in Montana, vandalized businesses and homes of people connected to the fur and meat industries, slashed tires, and released nearly 6,000 mink from farms in five different states, according to the indictment.
Buddenberg and Kissane are accused of releasing 1,800 of the animals from Moyle Mink Ranch in Burley July 29, 2013. Mink are related to weasels and are highly prized for their fur, which is used to make coats and other apparel.
Manager Mark Moyle told KTVB the activists cut a fence to get onto his ranch, then opened mink pens, setting the animals free.
Moyle said he was able to recapture about 90 percent of the mink. Most of those remaining were hit by cars, he said: The farm-raised mink were used to receiving their food from a machine and apparently ran up to the highway when they heard engines.
“They’re a domesticated animal out there,” he said. “Unfortunately, what [the activists] did wasn’t humane, because now they’re getting run over on the highway.”
Moyle Mink Ranch could not be reached for comment Saturday.
The Animal Liberation Front, an extremist animal rights group, immediately claimed responsibility for the release. The group has said it was also behind an 2011 arson at a Middleton fur business.
Jerry Vlasak, a press officer for the Animal Liberation Front says, the poor treatment mink get in farms when they’re raised for their fur justifies breaking the law.
“I have no idea if these two people that have been arrested are the ones that did that,” he said. “If they did, they’re our heroes. Whoever did it, they’re our heroes.”
Vlasak said that Moyle was likely lying about the freed minks being recaptured or run over, noting that ranchers targeted by the Animal Liberation Front often reported the same thing. He also likened the crime spree to battles for civil rights throughout history.
“Any struggle for liberation, whether it was against apartheid in South Africa, against slavery in this country, whether it was against any of the illegal occupations in other countries like Vietnam or Iraq – all of these actions, all of these liberation struggles have involved breaking the law to help those who are being oppressed, and the struggle for animal liberation is no different,” he said.
Cassia County Undersheriff George Worrell didn’t see it that way.
“They’re just terrorists, plain and simple,”Worrell told KTVB in 2013. “They’re a terrorist group. They do a lot of damage and in an area like us, it’s a rural farm-based community, that really affects us.”
According to the indictment, Buddenberg and Kissane financed their spree by selling things on eBay and Amazon. The pair avoided police detection by always paying in cash, avoiding using phones or logging into online accounts, and using public internet and encrypted email, investigators say. They’re also accused of posting details of the crime spree on animal extremist websites.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the activists did hundreds of dollars in damage. If convicted, they could face up to 10 years in prison and be ordered to pay restitution.
Vlasak says the Animal Liberation Front often raises money for bail and legal expenses when the activists get arrested, and has put money on the books of members who were sent to prison. He says it will be up to the suspects to decide what kind of help they want from the group.