Five animal-rights activists from California have been charged with felonies accusing them of burglarizing a hog farm in Beaver County and removing pigs.
Court documents say the defendants are associated with a California-based animal rescue group called Direct Action Everywhere. They are accused of stealing swine from a Smithfield Foods Circle Four Farms in Beaver County.
“Baby pigs are enduring mutilation, starvation and abuse at Smithfield, and the company doesn’t want the public to know about it,” said Direct Action co-founder Wayne Hsiung, one of the defendants. “This is an attempt to intimidate activists who are showing the public the truth about what happens in factory farms.”
The thefts appear to have occurred in March 2017, though court documents indicate the farm managers didn’t detect them until July 6. That’s when an employee called the sheriff’s office to say a video was posted on The New York Times website depicting the removal of the livestock. The video, titled “Operation Deathstar,” is an immersive, 360-degree view of the livestock removal.
The Beaver County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI began investigating. They looked on social media and other public internet spaces and found more video of the operation, court documents say.
Photos showed the hogs at Ching Farm Rescue and Sanctuary in Herriman. A search warrant was served there on Aug. 22. Court documents say the owner acknowledged the hogs had been at the sanctuary but were later moved. Court records don’t specify how many hogs were taken from Beaver County.
Investigators also obtained suspects’ cellphone records. Court records say the data showed the defendants were in the vicinity of the Smithfield Foods facility March 7-8, 2017.
The five are charged in state court in Beaver with four felony counts, each punishable by up to 15 years in prison: pattern of unlawful activity, theft of livestock and two counts of burglary against an animal enterprise. They are also charged with a misdemeanor count of rioting. A court docket indicates warrants are being issued for their arrest.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office and the Beaver County Attorney jointly filed the charges.
The five are already charged with two felonies in Sanpete County. There, they are accused of taking a turkey chick from a Norbest farm in Moroni. The activists say they were saving a bird who was on the edge of death due to inhumane conditions.