A Minnesota man accused in connection with a 2004 University of Iowa animal lab break-in pleaded guilty instead Monday to releasing ferrets from a Minnesota farm.
Scott DeMuth, 23, of Minneapolis, entered his plea in U.S. District Court, Davenport, to a misdemeanor conspiracy charge and faces six months in prison. He was set to go to trial Tuesday for both crimes.
DeMuth admitted to releasing ferrets from Lakeside Ferret Inc. in Minnesota in April 2006 and causing damage to computers and records. The charge is a misdemeanor because the damage was less than $10,000.
His attorney, Michael Deutsch, said after Monday’s change of plea hearing that prosecutors had approached the defense asking to resolve the case.
“I told them he wasn’t involved in the Iowa break-in,” Deutsch said. “Unless that was taken out, I wouldn’t be agreeable to a plea.”
DeMuth declined comment.
Federal prosecutor Cliff Cronk had said the government had planned to call 60 witnesses to testify during a trial that was scheduled to last two to three weeks.
If convicted of the felony conspiracy charge, DeMuth would have faced up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
“I felt he was being made a scapegoat,” Deutsch said.
DeMuth was previously ordered detained for refusing to testify before the grand jury. He has been out on bond while awaiting trial.
His former girlfriend, Carrie Feldman, also was detained for refusing to testify. She was released after DeMuth was indicted and FBI agents raided a home in Salt Lake City, Utah. One of the targets of the warrant was Peter Young, an animal rights activist who served time in federal prison for fur-farm raids in the 1990s, documents show.
The FBI was called in to investigate the November 2004 vandalism and break-in at the University of Iowa's Spence Laboratories and Seashore Hall.
The Animal Liberation Front, 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.
UI officials estimated the damage in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and offered a $10,000 reward for tips leading to identification of the vandals. The university also increased security at its labs after the break-in.
No one else has been charged in connection with the incident.