FBI raids Phila.
home of animal-rights activist
raid's focus appeared to be Nick Cooney, who has protested against a Princeton
By Robert Moran, Inquirer
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
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
He would not elaborate.
Cooney said he had protested outside the
homes of Focal employees and had received a police citation at one of
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
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.