Chef's personal info posted online in foie gras flap

A Laguna Beach chef says animal rights activists posted personal information — including his cell phone number and credit card transactions — online because he served foie gras.

Activists hacked into the website of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, from whom Amar Santana of Broadway in Laguna Beach purchased fattened duck liver, and distributed his and more than 1,200 other clients' personal information to animal rights groups, which posted the data online April 24.

The list included email addresses, personal cell phone numbers and credit card transactions. Hudson Valley Foie Gras' website was temporarily shut down, causing the largest U.S. producer of foie gras to lose sales for a day.

Santana said Wednesday that he has received multiple blocked calls from callers who yelled at him, screamed obscenities or just hung up.

"I knew they were brutal, but I didn't know they were so big and powerful," Santana said. "It's crazy to me. If I want to eat foie gras, let me eat it. It's not their business."

Federal and state authorities are investigating, said Marcus Henley, Hudson Valley's operations manager.

"I hope they're found because they performed a serious criminal act," he said. "We can have arguments and discussions, but when you step outside of a democratic process and go and intimidate people, attack and release people's personal information, those are principle issues. It's not the American way."

The list was posted on the North American Animal Liberation Press Office website, which accepts anonymous tips and information through a PGP, or Pretty Good Privacy, data encryption program.

"We receive anonymous communication, and we merely put it together and send it out," said Will Hazlitt, spokesman for the Animal Liberation Press Office. "Our main concern, and animal rights activists' concerns, is the suffering of the animals."

The hacking incident comes after Santana and a Costa Mesa chef were criticized by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for serving foie gras as a free side to a $55 glass of wine at his restaurant earlier in April. As the result of a July 1 state law, the only of its kind in the country, it is illegal to sell or produce the dish in California restaurants.

Santana argued he was in compliance with the law by giving foie gras away.

PETA sent a letter April 8 to Santana, as well as Chef Noah Blom of Arc in Costa Mesa, who had been using duck liver in a sauce, threatening to take legal action. Ten days later, and after threatening phone calls to the restaurant, Ahmed Labbate, director of operations at Broadway, emailed PETA, stating that the restaurant would no longer sell foie gras.

"We're calling it quits," Labbate said previously. "I wish I had the money to fight PETA, but we don't. We're a small restaurant and we don't have the means."

The client list was posted less than a week after Labbate's email, Santana said.

OC Weekly originally reported that Santana had received calls.

"We've been under attack for many, many years," Henley said. "There's been break-ins and broken equipment. You can give up or you can fight. It's fatiguing, but we believe this is not justifiable."

Twitter: @TheDailyPilot

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World