TRENTON, N.J. - Lisa Leitten is finished living her double life. For the past three years, the soft-spoken, 30-year old moved from Missouri to Texas to Virginia, applying for jobs at businesses dealing with animals. She gave her real name, and some real details about herself: a master's degree in animal psychology and prior work at a primate sanctuary in Florida.
What she didn't reveal was that she was also working for an animal welfare organization, and that she wore a hidden camera to document instances in which animals were treated with what she calls horrific neglect and cruelty.
Leitten called her last assignment for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals her most wrenching: nine months in a Virginia lab owned by Princeton, N.J.-based biomedical firm Covance Co. There, she says, monkeys were denied medical care and abused by technicians. The company denies the claims, says it treats the animals properly and has accused Leitten of illegally working under cover.
For what she says was her final assignment, Leitten was hired as a primate technician for Covance.
Leitten's camera work, and the report issued by PETA, depict frightened monkeys being yanked from their cages and handled roughly by aggressive, often cursing technicians.
She says she watched animals suffer with festering wounds, and that tubes were forced into their sinuses for research medicine to be administered, causing them to scream, bleed and vomit. Monkeys were housed alone in cages that were hosed down with the animals still inside, dripping and shivering, she said.
Laurene Isip, a Covance spokeswoman, says the company has complied with animal welfare regulations for its half-century in business, and doubted the credibility of PETA's charges.
The company called Leitten's actions illegal. Legal experts agree.
"As an employee she has a legal right to be there, but she's there to fulfill and execute on the tasks and responsibilities give to her by her employer. She's not there to fulfill her own private agenda," said Scott Vernick, a Philadelphia lawyer specializing in professional responsibility and legal ethics.
Bruce Weinstein, who has written four books on ethics, said even noble ends do not justify deceptive means.
"The question is, can those perhaps noble ends be achieved legally and ethically? Can one legitimately document abuses that occur without pretending to be someone one is not, or breaking the law, or videotaping things surreptitiously?"
"It's a risk we're willing to take," Sweetland said. "If it weren't for these investigations, no one would no what was going on."