Scott DeMuth
Scott DeMuth pleaded guilty to releasing ferrets from a Minnesota farm. (FILE PHOTO/Larry Fisher)

A man sentenced to six months in federal prison Monday for releasing ferrets from a Minnesota farm in 2006 was not allowed to delay turning himself in .

U.S. District Judge John Jarvey ordered Scott DeMuth taken into custody immediately, over the objections of his defense attorney and in front of his parents, his girlfriend and about a dozen supporters. 

U.S. marshals handcuffed DeMuth and escorted him out of the courtroom at the federal courthouse in Davenport. He blew a kiss to his girlfriend, Autumn Wilson, before he was taken away. 

Wilson said the government was trying to make him out to be an animal terrorist.

“Breaking and entering is hardly terrorism,” she said.

Visibly upset, DeMuth’s father, Tim DeMuth, shoved prosecutor Cliff Cronk as he left the courtroom. Cronk said, “That’s never happened to me before.”

Tim DeMuth denied he shoved the prosecutor when asked afterward about the brief encounter between the two when they were in the doorway to the courtroom.

Tim and Laurene DeMuth, Scott’s mother, were stunned their son was ordered into custody right away, although they said they did “plan for the worst.”

Just before his sentencing, Scott DeMuth said he wanted to move on “and get this behind me.”

He pleaded guilty in September to conspiracy to commit animal enterprise terrorism. He admitted to releasing ferrets from Lakeside Ferret Inc. in April 2006 — when he was 17 — and causing damage to computers and records. 

DeMuth was among a group of animal rights activists who sneaked onto the farm in the 

middle of the night, cut holes in the fence and opened cages to let the ferrets loose, prosecutors said. 

“It was an act of cowardice under the cover of darkness,” Cronk said. He added that the vandals were there for “some cause they thought was greater than the livelihood of this old man.”

He said the raid caused Lakeside Ferret Inc., which supplied ferrets to pet stores, to go out of business, an accusation denied by DeMuth’s defense attorney, Michael Deutsch.

Of the 200 ferrets released, all but 10 were eventually returned to the owner, Deutsch said. He claimed the owner of the animals inflated their value in order to increase the amount of restitution DeMuth may have had to pay. 

The charge is a misdemeanor because the damage was less than $10,000. The judge did not order DeMuth to pay restitution.

After Monday’s hearing, Deutsch said the case has been “politically motivated” since the beginning and called the judge’s sentence “unfair.”

Deutsch had wanted his client to serve out his sentence in a halfway house or under house arrest instead of prison. He said DeMuth is in the process of completing a graduate degree and volunteers to help with the American Indian population. He said DeMuth has matured since the 2006 raid and is a “law-abiding” young man.

As part of DeMuth’s plea deal, prosecutors dropped allegations he was involved in a 2004 raid on a University of Iowa psychology laboratory where vandals released mice and rats and destroyed years of research data. 

No one has been convicted in connection to the University of Iowa raid.

The Animal Liberation Front, or ALF, an underground animal-rights activist group, claimed responsibility for the damage to lab equipment and the release of 88 mice and 313 rats used in psychology department experiments. The break-in was designated as domestic terrorism.

The ALF also claimed responsibility for the Lakeside Ferret Inc. action.