The case was called “Operation Grand Champion,” and was led by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of New Jersey.
This is a major salvo and part of a coordinated effort across numerous federal judicial districts to combat organized dogfighting. I believe before Michael Vick the Feds never, ever would have taken dogfighting seriously, but the publicity generated by that case and a general public awareness has given this crime all new seriousness.
The HSUS assisted law enforcement in identifying dogfighting evidence and coordinating the rescue effort of 66 dogs.
The HSUS. is working with St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in New Jersey and others. The dogs will be held at a temporary shelter or shelters in undisclosed locations, where they will receive needed veterinary care and enrichment. It is The HSUS’s policy that dogs seized from animal fighting operations be treated as individuals and evaluated for potential placement with HSUS Dogfighting Rescue Coalition emergency placement partners.
Federal agents said evidence from the defendants’ properties includes scarred dogs and dogs stacked in crates; dog treadmills, “flirt” poles used to build jaw strength and increase aggression, and animal pelts. Also found were chains, to hold the dogs in one place.
The federal Animal Welfare Act makes it a felony punishable by up to five years in prison to fight dogs or to possess, train, sell, buy, deliver, receive, or transport dogs intended for use in dogfighting, and a potential fine of $25,00 per count.
HSUS CEO/President Wayne Pacelle on his blog wrote, “My colleague Chris Schindler, director of animal crimes for The HSUS, was on the scene at one location with our Animal Rescue Team. “These dogs are finally free from their lives inside dark crates or at the end of heavy chains,” Schindler told me. “Most importantly, they will never again have to fight to the death. We are incredibly encouraged by the federal government’s dedication to this case and to eradicating dogfighting nationwide. We are grateful to all the agencies involved that made these rescues possible.”
Prosecutors allege the group — ranging in age from 30 to 62 years old — bought, sold, trained, transported and delivered pit bull-type dogs for fighting in various states from October 2015 until their arrests. Eight of the individuals were arrested as part of the investigation, a ninth man was already in custody on unrelated charges.
The HSUS played the leading role in driving the enactment of the strong federal anti-animal fighting standards under which such crimes are now prosecuted.
Among those charged were Anthony Gaines, 35, of Vineland; Justin Love, 36, of Westville; Lydell Harris, 30, of Vineland; Mario Atkinson, 40, of Asbury Park; Frank Nichols, 39, of Millville; Tiffany Burt, 34, of Vineland; Dajwan Ware, 43, of Fort Wayne, Ind.; Pedro Cuellar, 46, of Willow Springs, Ill.; Robert Arellano, 62, of Albuquerque, NM.