By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Two Los Angeles-area activists accused of sabotaging an Illinois mink farm and freeing 2,000 of the weasel-like animals from captivity there have been indicted on federal charges of conspiracy and interstate travel to interfere with an animal enterprise.
The two-count indictment returned earlier this week by a federal grand jury in Chicago was unsealed on Thursday after one of the defendants, Tyler Lang, 25, was arrested in El Segundo, California, near Los Angeles International Airport.
His co-defendant, Kevin Johnson, 27, also known as Kevin Olliff, was already in Illinois state custody, serving a sentence for possession of burglary tools that authorities say he intended to use to break into a fox farm.
Both men are due to be arraigned in federal court in Chicago on July 29. Each of the two counts against them carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The indictment alleges that the two men raided a mink farm last August in Morris, Illinois, about 60 miles southwest of Chicago, where they released some 2,000 minks that were being bred and raised in cages there for sale to fur manufacturers.
A statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago said that after removing portions of the fence surrounding the farm to allow the minks to escape the property, the two men painted the words "Liberation is Love" on a barn and sprayed two farm vehicles with a caustic substance.
Lang and Johnson also are accused of plotting among themselves and others to travel through the Midwest raiding other facilities that raise animals for fur.
Both men are identified on their own website (www.supportkevinandtyler.com), and the site of a group called the Animal Liberation Front (www.animaliberationfrontline.com), as animal rights activists who were arrested in Illinois last August, the night after the Morris mink farm raid, and charged with possession of burglary tools.
According to accounts on those sites, police found bolt cutters, wire cutters, acid, ski masks and camouflage clothing in the men's car. Both ultimately accepted plea deals, with Johnson sentenced to 2-1/2 years, and Lang released in November 2013 after being sentenced to time already served.
The case in Illinois comes amid a recent upswing in similar raids on mink and fox farms by animal rights activists in several states and Canada, as reported by the New York Times.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles)