SALT LAKE CITY — Five California animal activists accused of stealing pigs from a farm in Beaver and talking about their actions on social media now face felony charges due in part to their own posts.
The Utah Attorney General's Office on Monday charged Wayne Hansen Hsiung, 36, of Berkeley; Paul Picklesimer, 40, of Berkeley; Samer Thomas Masterson, 24, of San Francisco; Andrew George Sharo, 24, of Berkeley; and Jonathan Frohnmayer, 33, of Santa Clara, with engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity, two counts of burglary committed against an animal enterprise, and theft of livestock, all second-degree felonies. All but Masterson were also charged with riot, a class A misdemeanor.
Hsiung is the founder of the California-based animals rights group Direct Action Everywhere, according to court documents. The group in a statement Monday said it is being targeted for exposing corporate misconduct.
"This is an attempt to intimidate activists who are showing the public the truth about what happens in factory farms," Hsiung said. "The real issue here is the industry doesn't want people to see how their meat is produced."
On July 6, 2017, the Beaver County Sheriff's Office and the FBI were notified of pigs being stolen from farms owned by Smithfield Foods. A Smithfield Foods employee also told authorities that video of the theft had appeared in a New York Times article, according to charging documents.
The story included a picture of two men holding piglets with the caption, "Members of Direct Action Everywhere, an animal welfare group, removing piglets from Circle Four Farms in Milford, Utah."
Investigators searching the internet for video found one that "showed that three of the five defendants unlawfully entered onto Smithfield Foods property and … walking through the barns and stealing two swine," the charges state. "The fourth and fifth defendants contributed to the criminal activity, were on the Smithfield Foods property at the time, and assisted with the handling of the stolen swine."
In the New York Times article, Direct Action Everywhere talked about using a virtual reality camera to expose bad practices in the meat industry.
In court documents investigators stated they used the cameras to expose who was responsible for the alleged break-in.
"The FBI and Beaver County Sheriff’s Office reviewed a copy of the aforementioned video. The video is titled 'Operation Deathstar' and is an approximately 11-minute video shot in 360-degree color footage. The video footage or 'virtual reality video' allowed the viewer to pan the screen around nearly the entire visible environment the camera captured. The quality and digital attributes of the virtual reality footage made it possible to identify the five defendants depicted in the video footage," according to the charges.
Investigators say the pigs were moved to Ching Farm Rescue and Sanctuary in Herriman. A warrant was served on the farm in August, but the owners claimed the pigs had been moved to Colorado by then, according to the charges. Investigators believe the swine were moved to Luvin Arms Animal Sanctuary in Erie, Colorado.
The same five men are also believed to have raided a Norbest turkey farm in Moroni in January 2017, "and illegally stole three turkeys from the facility to promote the 'open rescue' mission of DxE," the charges state.
They were charged earlier this month in 6th District Court with burglary and theft of livestock.
Hsiung was also arrested in San Francisco in May 2017 for allegedly trespassing on a poultry farm, and an arrest warrant was issued for him in February in North Carolina on charges of burglarizing a goat farm, the charges state.
Contributing: Annie Knox
Correction: An earlier version said Hsiung is 37 years old. He is 36.