When the news first broke Monday, KMVT (the Twin Falls CBS affiliate) noted that "officials with federal and state agencies were at the scene including law enforcement officials with the multi jurisdictional Federal 'Immigrant and Customs Enforcement' agency known as 'ICE'." It wasn't clear why ICE was involved, but due to the history of Moyle Mink (previously called the Moyle Mink Farm) one could easily jump to the conclusion that the business was employing undocumented workers. In 1989, Lee Moyle, co-owner of Moyle Mink & Tannery, was cited for 21 violations of the Immigration Reform and Control Act. The following, from U.S. v Moyle notes the history of the case:
Despite the Moyle's previous history of hiring undocumented workers, Tuesday Laurie Welch of the Times-News reported that the warrants were related to trafficking of illegal wildlife and the U.S. Attorney said there isn't an immigration component to the story. The immigration angle is a story in itself once the connections between Moyle Mink & Tannery and Idaho House Majority Leader Mike Moyle come to light. Idaho House Majority Leader Mike Moyle has supported numerous anti-immigration bills during his tenure in the Idaho Legislature, including English as the official language legislation as well as legislation that made obtaining an Idaho driver's license or identification card close to impossible for illegal immigrants.
The incestuous nature of the various Moyle mink farm operations in Idaho makes pointing out the exact connection between each of the Moyle family members involved in their operation difficult, but what has become clear is that Lee and Ryan Moyle, co-owners of Moyle Mink & Tannery, are relatives of Idaho House Majority Leader Mike Moyle. Mink farming and tanning has been in the Moyle family for three generations. In 1990 when Lee Moyle was interviewed by the Times-News regarding opposition the mink farms were encountering from animal rights groups like Friends of Animals, it was noted that "half of Idaho's mink production comes from southern Idaho farms, most of which bear the Moyle name." Lee Moyle stated that "the eight farms run by the Moyle family are the largest mink-production entity in North America." This would include the mink farms operated at times by various members of the Moyle family including Ryan & Lee's operation in Minidoka County that has been operating since 1986 in their current location and Rep. Mike Moyle's former mink ranch in Star, Idaho. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service there were twenty-four functioning mink or fur farms in Idaho as of 2007.
U.S. Assistant Attorney Mike Fica says that no charges have been filed in the ongoing investigation. What has been pieced together by the Times-News and KMVT suggests that Fish and Wildlife officials from several states as well as the previously mentioned Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers were on the scene yesterday when the search warrants were served. ICE officers were apparently brought in due to their experience seizing evidence. Below is a search at the Idaho Secretary of State's Business Entities Index, the Heyburn and Burley locations are likely the two locations where search warrants were served Monday:
The illegal trafficking of animals and employment of undocumented workers are not the only curious components of this story. Moyle Mink & Tannery has had a prickly relationship with local government over the past several years. They have opposed a development (referred to as the Alfresco Parkway PUD) neighboring their business in Heyburn due to what appears to be a fear that if commercial business comes in, there will inevitably be a complaint about the smell of the Moyle operation and Moyle Mink will be forced out. The conflict between Moyle Mink and the developer was depicted as follows in the Times-News:
The land is being rezoned from agricultural to commercial use and could accommodate hotels and restaurants accessible to travelers on the nearby interstate. Ryan Moyle, the co-owner of Moyle Mink, appeared before the Heyburn City Council just weeks prior to the federal search warrants being served. The Heyburn City Council was to return to the rezoning issue at their February 23rd meeting, the minutes of which are available, however, the council instructed the city attorney to revise a specific ordinance for their next meeting. Ryan Moyle attended the February 23rd meeting.
The request [for rezoning] was opposed by Moyle Mink representative Ryan Moyle, who said potential ambient light from the business park could negatively affect breeding patterns of the company’s animals.
Moyle said the business park and the mink farm are just incompatible.
“I was willing to spend several hundred thousand dollars to stop it,” Moyle said.
The mink farm owners and developers tried to solve their issues, which ended in the Moyles offering to buy the Alfresco Parkway property and the developers saying “no thank you,” said developer attorney Lyman Belnap.
Moyle attorney Randy Stone said the mink farm land-applies mink waste and associated odors would be offensive to business park tenants.
“You have two businesses essentially destroying each other,” Stone said.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this story has very little to do with the crimes being investigated at Moyle Mink & Tannery. Ryan Moyle's vocal opposition to the Alfresco Parkway rezoning in Minidoka County begs the question of whether or not Rep. Moyle's urban renewal bill currently being considered in the legislature would ultimately benefit the interests of Ryan and Lee Moyle. After all, in House Bill 95, Moyle is proposing that a new urban renewal district would require written consent from the owners of agricultural land before that land could be considered in that district. Judging by the opposition the Moyle's have had to the rezoning in the City of Heyburn, they would be precisely the agricultural land owners who would oppose the creation of an urban renewal district or the expansion of the geographic area of such a district as their agricultural land could eventually be considered blighted, the very type of land urban renewal districts are created to purge.
Clearly there are far more questions than answers surrounding Moyle Mink & Tannery.