ASPCA.org - The United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama concluded sentencing on Wednesday for eight individuals arrested during the second largest dog fighting raid in U.S. history in August 2013.
The case was led by the United States Attorney’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who requested assistance from the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States in the removal, transport, sheltering, medical and daily care of the animals seized during the raid.
Sentences ranged from six months to eight years—which is the longest prison term ever handed down in a federal dog fighting case.
U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins also ordered that after their release from prison, each defendant serve a two- or three-year term of supervised release. While on supervised release, the defendants are prohibited from possessing dogs.
Further, a restitution hearing will be scheduled in the future where the defendants may be ordered to pay restitution to the ASPCA and the HSUS for the cost of caring for the seized dogs. Some defendants will be required to attend a drug program due to the large amounts of drugs involved with this case.
“These dogs lived in deplorable conditions that constituted extraordinary cruelty,” stated U.S. Attorney George L. Beck, Jr. “They were made to fight and if they lost, they were killed. In addition to the brutality experienced by the dogs, these events attracted drugs dealers and illegal gambling.”
“It was not uncommon for large amounts of cash, often between twenty and two-hundred thousand dollars, to change hands. The prospect of huge profits made these fights even more popular and provided a venue for other criminal activity. I hope that these sentences demonstrate the seriousness of this crime and will deter others from committing these atrocities.”
Throughout the hearing, Judge Watkins commented on the extreme cruelty committed both due to dog fighting and the conditions in which these dogs were forced to live. Judge Watkins further reiterated that the federal sentencing guidelines for dog fighting are wholly inadequate to address the seriousness of the crime.
He estimated that the defendants had injured or killed between 420 to 640 dogs in the course of this dog fighting operation. Also noted was the amount of drugs, weapons and violence intertwined with dog fighting.
“This is truly a landmark case for the animal welfare community,” said Tim Rickey, vice president of ASPCA Field Investigations and Response, who testified at the hearings. “We hope this case serves as a precedent for future dog fighting cases and sends a message to dog fighters everywhere that this crime will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
“Through his closing statements and the sentences he has handed down, U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins is making a strong statement,” said Chris Schindler, manager of animal fighting investigations for the HSUS, who also testified at the hearings.
“The Humane Society of the United States wants to echo that statement loud and clear: dog fighting is a serious crime, it will not be tolerated, and there will be consequences if you chose to partake.”
On Aug. 23, 2013, the HSUS and ASPCA assisted the United States Attorney’s Office and FBI in seizing hundreds of dogs in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. Federal and local officials also seized firearms and drugs, as well as more than $500,000 in cash from dog fighting gambling activities.
The ASPCA and the HSUS assisted authorities with collecting forensic evidence and testified to the gruesome cruelty committed. Many of the dogs seized during this case have finally moved on to the second chapters of their lives and were placed with various rescue groups across the country to be made available for adoption.
Dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Earlier this year, the Farm Bill was signed by President Obama, making it a federal offense to attend an organized animal fight and imposing additional penalties for bringing a minor to a fight.
The HSUS and ASPCA advocate strengthening federal and state animal fighting statutes, and regularly assist local, state and federal authorities on dog fighting investigations and raids across the country.
Image via ASPCA.org