FBI raids Phila. home of animal-rights activist
The raid's focus appeared to be Nick Cooney, who has protested against a Princeton animal-testing firm.

By Robert Moran, Inquirer Staff Writer

More than a dozen FBI agents raided the West Philadelphia home of an animal-rights activist yesterday in connection with a federal investigation of a harassment campaign against an animal-testing company.

The focus of the raid appeared to be Nick Cooney, 23, a member of a group called Hugs for Puppies who has participated in protests against Huntingdon Life Sciences, a testing firm based near Princeton. The company has been the subject of an international campaign by animal-rights activists who say they want to put it out of business.

The campaign includes noisy protests at the homes of Huntingdon employees and employees of companies that do business with the firm.
Some employees have suffered vandalism and threats.

Federal investigators have focused on Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA, which runs a Web site that features anonymous reports describing the protests after they occur. In May, seven alleged members of the group were indicted federally in New Jersey and accused of organizing the campaign against Huntingdon.

Paul J. Hetznecker, a Philadelphia lawyer who has represented Cooney, said the West Philadelphia raid was part of an intimidation campaign.

"My concern is that the federal government, and in particular this administration, has coordinated a war on lawful dissent," Hetznecker said. "Regardless of the evidence, you become a suspect because you are dissenting."

Around 6 a.m. yesterday, the FBI agents, including members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, executed a search warrant in the 5000 block of Hazel Street, where Cooney rents a room in a three-story house.

The search warrant did not name Cooney, but it sought evidence related to Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty and Hugs for Puppies. Cooney said he was the only animal-rights activist among the eight people living in the house.

"They ransacked my room," said Cooney, who said he was not home at the time of the raid.

Jason Fults, 29, an environmental activist who also lives at the house, said the agents searched every part of the building, including the basement and attic, and seized items.

Fults said the agents took his laptop computer.

"I was a little bit scared," said Fults, who insisted he was not active with animal-rights causes.

An FBI receipt listing the items taken from the house included computers, documents, computer disks, pamphlets and a spray-paint can.

Cooney said his passport was among the documents.

Another name identified on the search warrant was "FCC," which some animal-rights activists suggested could refer to Focal Communication Corp., which is headquartered in Chicago.

A spokeswoman for Focal did not respond to requests for comment.

Earlier this year, Focal and its employees, including some in the Philadelphia region, were targeted for reportedly having provided telecommunications services to Huntingdon.

The search warrant was approved by a U.S. magistrate in Chicago, and an FBI special agent from Chicago led the raid.

"It's part of an ongoing federal investigation being coordinated by this office," said Ross Rice, the FBI's Chicago spokesman.

He would not elaborate.

Cooney said he had protested outside the homes of Focal employees and had received a police citation at one of the demonstrations.

He recently pleaded guilty to summary offenses in Chester County resulting from a demonstration outside the home of an executive of a company that the protesters believed was doing business with Huntingdon.

Cooney is facing a felony charge after allegedly violating a court order by distributing flyers in Cherry Hill that listed the home address and phone number of Howard Pien, the chief executive of Chiron Corp., which has done business with Huntingdon.

Pien lives in Cherry Hill and was the target of several demonstrations outside his house in January and February, including one in which protesters drove up and down his street in a truck with video screens showing animals being dissected.