Oh, Good Grief 

Target of animal-rights activists asks court to keep them at bay; Former Hayward principal is suspected of stealing funds raised by children.

There sure were lots of happy-talk stories last week on the fortieth anniversary of A Charlie Brown Christmas -- from CNN to the Bay Area's KCBS radio, which resorted to playing the Peanuts theme song during one of its weather forecasts. After all this time and media saturation, not to mention the fact that Snoopy is a health-insurance mascot, you might think you know all there is to know about the Charlie Brown franchise. But here's something you mightn't know: Pamelyn Ferdin, the child actor who did the voice of Lucy Van Pelt, although not in the original Christmas special, is now president of a radical animal-rights group monitored closely by the FBI. (Okay, that's a tortured segue into this item, but dammit, it's easy to illustrate!)

Ferdin heads the United States affiliate of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), a group that started in England in 1999 in response to alleged abuses at Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS), a research firm that does animal-testing for drug companies. Ferdin took over the reins last year from Kevin Kjonaas, who was indicted last year on federal stalking and harassment charges. According to the Chron, the original indictment alleged that SHAC endorsed "terror tactics" such as "spraying cleaning fluid into one's eyes," "smashing the windows of one's house," vandalizing or firebombing cars, threatening to "kill or injure one's partner or children," and "arranging for an undertaker to call to collect one's body." (Lucy always was a bit of a grump.) In essence, the group has championed the sort of in-your-face tactics used by anti-abortion extremists. The FBI has called "animal-rights extremism" one of its top domestic terrorism priorities.

Last year, Emeryville biotech company Chiron obtained an injunction against SHAC USA in Alameda County Superior Court after alleging harassment by the group over the firm's past ties to Huntingdon. Now, SHAC is on trial again in Alameda County -- at least indirectly. This time, a local division of pharmaceutical giant Roche is asking for restraining orders against four Bay Area animal-rights activists, Ariel Solomon, Nadia Winstead, Susan Larsen, and Lucas Lineback (or was that Linus Lucback?).

Lawyers for Roche Molecular Systems say the four participated in over-the-line protests, including a surprise July visit to the company's Alameda Island site where they "delivered" birthday balloons and, once inside, cheered: "Happy birthday, it's your hundredth birthday of testing animals." One month earlier, Roche Molecular employees came to work and found graffiti scribbled on the sidewalk reading "Stop working with HLS" and "puppy killers." Employees also found fliers with pictures of mangled puppies and SHAC's contact info.

Around the same time, activists visited the homes and neighborhoods of local Roche execs. In one case, an unknown person visited the Orinda home of Roche regulatory affairs manager Carol Pachl while she was at work and handed her fourteen-year-old son a flier describing his mother as someone who worked for a company that tortures animals. The strangers also gave the teen a video produced by SHAC and told the kid to give these items to his mom, court papers say. Roche reps allege the incidents are part of a nationwide harassment campaign against the company.

In an e-mail, Ferdin denied that SHAC USA has had any involvement in protests against Roche employees. She did say that if Roche Molecular or its parent company does business with Huntingdon "and the cruelty, torture, and death inflicted upon these poor miserable animals behind cinderblock walls, then they are open to being a target of the global campaign to shut down HLS." Attorney Christine Garcia, who represents Lineback, says no one from Roche Molecular actually saw her client, and she notes that a restraining-order complaint filed by the company in Santa Clara County in a related matter was dismissed. Garcia suggests it was a dubious case of guilt by association -- Roche employees who testified last week conceded that they couldn't identify Lineback physically, but believed he was involved in the protests because of his purported ties to SHAC. Even if Lineback had been involved, Garcia says, it would have been a matter of free speech: "There is so much hysteria going on [over] animal-rights activists."

Garcia also notes that she spotted a G-man sitting in the audience at last week's hearing, so for all you FBI agents reading this, the next hearing in the Roche restraining-order case is scheduled for January 16.

Stealing from Schoolkids?

Hayward police are investigating whether a former principal at Lorin Eden Elementary stole money from the school's parent-teacher association. How much she allegedly stole is unclear but in September the president of the regional PTA estimated to police that about $30,000 was missing from the group's account.

Hayward police obtained a search warrant last month to examine bank records of ex-principal Mable Haskins, who retired shortly after the school year began. Police inspector Anne Madrid's affidavit says Haskins' daughter reported her missing to Oakland police in September after finding a possible suicide note. According to the document, the educator "admitted to theft of funds from the Lorin Eden School PTA" in her note.

Madrid included an excerpt of the alleged note, which said, "Several months ago the PTA president left the signed checkbook at school. I was confronted with not having the funds available to take care of personal needs. ... So I resorted to writing me out a check." The note goes on to say that Haskins wrote more checks to herself until "I couldn't pull from that account anymore."

"I can't go on," she allegedly wrote. "I am turning the books over to the regional PTA board." She later turned up alive and safe with a family member.

According to the warrant, Tanya Ludden, president of the Peralta District PTA, said that someone had inappropriately destroyed many of Lorin Eden PTA's financial records. From the information available, she estimated that $31,000 of the $54,000 raised by schoolchildren during the 2004-05 school year was unaccounted for. In addition, the PTA owed $20,000 in unpaid bills. The warrant suggests that the PTA's financial irregularities extend beyond the retired principal: At the beginning of the 2004 school year, a PTA official claimed to have paid the IRS $15,000 following an audit. But Ludden told police that a review done later showed that no money had been paid to the IRS since 1995.

With the investigation not yet complete, Ludden declined to comment for this story, as did Hayward police. Feeder reached Haskins, who has not yet been charged with a crime, at her Oakland home. When asked about the missing funds, the former principal replied, "I am not discussing that with anyone."

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