Animal rights group says it flooded home

Times Staff Writer

An animal rights group has claimed responsibility for flooding the Westside home of a UCLA professor who uses lab monkeys in research on nicotine addiction.

An FBI spokeswoman said Monday that the agency is investigating the claim that the Animal Liberation Front used a garden hose to flood the house of professor Edythe London on Oct. 20 in an attempt to stop her animal experiments.

The FBI, along with UCLA and Los Angeles police, are treating the vandalism as a case of domestic terrorism and are probing possible ties to a June incident in which an incendiary device was lighted, but did not explode, next to a car at the home of a UCLA eye disease researcher, according to FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.

In a press release distributed to the media Monday, an underground entity identifying itself as the Animal Liberation Front said it broke a window at London's house and flooded the residence with a hose. The announcement said the group considered starting a fire there, but did not want to risk igniting brush fires that might have harmed animals "human and non-human."

UCLA officials said the flooding caused between $20,000 and $40,000 in damage. London could not be reached for comment.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block issued a statement Monday condemning what he described as a "deplorable and illegal act of extreme vandalism," and said the university would not retreat from the legal use of animals in research that can benefit society. He insisted that all UCLA research complies with federal laws to ensure humane care of lab animals.

The group's claim was posted by a Woodland Hills-based website called the North American Animal Liberation Press Office. Jerry Vlasak, a trauma surgeon who is an activist in that press office and who protests against animal euthanasia at animal shelters, declined to say how he received the information about the vandalism and said he did not know the responsible parties.

But Vlasak said Monday that he sent the communique to the media so the incident would "not be dismissed as a random act of violence." He said he condones the flooding at London's house "if it is helpful to get her to stop torturing innocent animals."

About a year ago, Santa Monica police and federal agents raided Vlasak's Agoura Hills house as part of an investigation into the Animal Liberation Front, which law enforcement officials described as a shadowy network that has sabotaged animal research labs, firebombed properties and made numerous death threats.

Authorities said Monday that Vlasak has not been charged with any crimes stemming from that investigation. FBI spokeswoman Eimiller said she could not confirm or deny whether the North American Animal Liberation Press Office is being investigated in the flooding and previous threats against UCLA professors.

Last year, Vlasak was convicted of "targeted protesting" -- in violation of a Los Angeles municipal ordinance -- for demonstrating against euthanasia at the home of a Department of Animal Services employee. He was sentenced to 30 days' electronic monitoring and is appealing the ruling.

Authorities are still offering $170,000 in rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for two previous UCLA-related incidents for which animal rights groups claimed credit.

An incendiary device was lighted but did not ignite June 24 next to a car parked at the Westside home of Dr. Arthur Rosenbaum, chief of pediatric ophthalmology at UCLA's Jules Stein Eye Institute. A similar incident occurred last year at a Bel-Air house, which apparently was targeted by mistake instead of the house of a UCLA researcher who lived nearby.

London, who has been at UCLA since 1999, is a professor in two departments at the David Geffen School of Medicine: Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, and Molecular & Medical Pharmacology. Her work on nicotine and methamphetamine addictions has included experiments on vervet monkeys. Plans for an upcoming study call for some of the monkeys to be ultimately killed and autopsied, according to the school.

According to Block's statement, London conducts "groundbreaking research aimed at better understanding and treating nicotine and methamphetamine addiction and other neuropsychiatric disorders that afflict millions of people." A university website said her research group pioneered the use of positron emission tomography, an imaging tool known as PET scanning, to show a relationship between drug craving and activity in brain regions that link memory with emotion.

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larry.gordon@latimes.com

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