the Chicago Tribune:
February 4, 2003 Tuesday,
Trib West; Pg. 1; ZONE: D
Lobster firm fleet vandalized;
Animal-rights group suspected; FBI is called in
By Virginia Groark and Jon Yates, Tribune staff reporters.
Lines to brakes and refrigeration systems on a fleet of Villa Park seafood
company trucks were cut over the weekend, damage the FBI is investigating
as the act of a radical animal rights group opposed to the killing of
Vandals entered an unsecured lot on the 200 block of North Avenue and
cuT the lines on dozens of Supreme Lobster and Seafood Co. trucks. They
also wrote "ALF--No Brakes" on a bay door of a company building.
Investigators believe ALF stands for the Animal Liberation Front, a loose
group of animal rights activists whom the FBI considers active domestic
According to an anonymous
e-mail sent to the Tribune, members also called themselves the "Groundhog
Crew" because they claimed to have damaged the trucks early Sunday,
which was Groundhog Day.
In the e-mail titled "ALF Communique," the group alleged the
Midwest's largest lobster distributor was responsible for the deaths of
more than 1 billion sea creatures over the last 25 years.
"Their lives cannot be returned, but we will continue to strike at
them until future generations are truly free," the e-mail stated.
"Didn't know groundhogs were such fans of sea creatures, did you?"
the group asked.
Company officials discovered the damage to 48 trucks early Monday when
a driver got into one of the trucks, according to a company official who
asked not to be identified for fear of retribution.
"He pulled the truck out and goes to hit the brakes, and he had no
brakes," the company official said. The truck came to a stop before
leaving the parking lot and did not hit anything or anyone, according
to police and company officials.
When employees realized the truck's brake line had been cut, they checked
other trucks in the fleet and found more damage, said Villa Park Police
Detective John Szkolka.
"It kept snowballing and snowballing, and that's when they called
us," said Szkolka, whose department was notified around 5:30 a.m.
After learning that ALF may be involved, police contacted the FBI, which
joined the investigation Monday afternoon.
"We are investigating this as a possible act of domestic terrorism,"
said Ross Rice, spokesman for the FBI in Chicago.
The company was able to lease trucks and conduct business, although some
deliveries were a few hours late, the company official said. Police did
not have an exact estimate of damages, but the company official said it
was in the "tens of thousands."
Supreme Lobster, a 29-year-old family business, imports and distributes
fresh and frozen seafood from around the world to more than 5,000 restaurants,
supermarkets, retail outlets and hospitality institutions in the Chicago
area. The company's territory also includes Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin,
according to its Web site.
Rice said cutting the brake lines of so many trucks could have had a "near
catastrophic effect." His office has made no arrests and filed no
"At this point it would be premature to say the [ALF's] claim of
responsibility is accurate," he added.
ALF officials could not be reached for comment. The group's spokesman,
David Barbarash of Vancouver, British Columbia, stepped down last month,
saying the media focused too much on him and not on the group's message.
His phone has been disconnected.
Though ALF is alleged to have committed other acts in the Midwest, including
releasing 1,200 minks from a Waverly, Iowa, ranch, Sunday's incident shocked
officials in the seafood industry.
"There have been groups that have tried to liberate lobsters and
put them back into the ocean," said Sue Barber, executive director
of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council in Bangor. "But I have never
heard of brake lines being cut. And that's kind of frightening because
if someone got into that truck and drove, you are putting humans at risk."
Experts said ALF has little structure and no apparent leadership, with
independent cells across the country and in Europe that vandalize animal
farms and other facilities. A Web site says the group's goal is, in part,
to "inflict economic damages to those who profit from the misery
and exploitation of animals," and "reveal the horror and atrocities
In recent years, ALF has claimed responsibility for releasing foxes from
a ranch in Pennsylvania, stealing dogs from an Italian research facility
and setting fire to a truck outside a poultry plant in Indiana.
Other animal rights groups do not agree with their tactics. Steve Hindi,
head of Geneva-based Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, said vandalism
can do more harm than good for the animal rights movement.
"That kind of thing is just not the answer," he said. "If
it is animal rights people, it's profoundly frustrating when that happens."
Tracing ALF can be challenging. The group tends to work at night and has
been difficult to prosecute.
Richard TeKippe, former lead prosecutor in Chickasaw County, Iowa, said
ALF claimed responsibility for freeing minks from a farm two years ago,
but no one was arrested.
"Some organization issued a statement saying they were responsible
for it, but you can't prosecute based on that," he said. "We
were never able to identify any witnesses."