Largest Dog Fighting Operation in U.S. History Raided by State & Federal Agencies With Assistance From ASPCA
ASPCA dispatches forensics, vet care and behavior evaluation teams to sites in Missouri and Illinois
NEW YORK, July 8 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — What is believed to be the largest dog fighting operation in U.S. history was raided early Wednesday in an effort that included federal and state agencies, with the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of animal shelter, Animal Cruelty TaCruelty to Animals) assisting.
At the request of the Humane Society of Missouri, the ASPCA, along with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, United States Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General, Federal Bureau of Investigation, The U.S. Marshals Service and the United States Attorney, is collaborating in the rescue, veterinary care, and forensics evidence collection of dogs associated with multiple suspected dog fighting operations. The ASPCA will also be assisting in behavior evaluations of the dogs.
The dog fighting operation is believed to have spanned five states and included arrests in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Texas and Oklahoma. Dogs are being safely transported to a secure facility under the direction of the Humane Society of Missouri Animal Cruelty Task Force, where they will be cared for until final disposition is determined by the United States District Court.
“The ASPCA is determined to protect its nation’s pets from dog fighting and other forms of brutality,” said ASPCA President and CEO Ed Sayres. “Animal cruelty cannot be tolerated, and we are proud to lend our support to federal and local agencies to ensure that these abusers are brought to justice.”
The ASPCA is collecting evidence for the prosecution of the criminal case, as well as lending the services of its special forensic cruelty investigation team, comprised of disaster animal rescuers, field service investigators, and Dr. Melinda Merck, the nation’s premier forensic veterinarian. More than a dozen responders from the ASPCA’s Disaster Response team are in the field, along with the ASPCA’s “Mobile Animal Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Unit,” a critical tool in the collection and processing of evidence at crime scenes. The CSI unit brings both state-of-the-art forensics tools and expertise to crime scenes and is outfitted with medical equipment tailored for animal patients.
“The ASPCA’s Mobile Animal CSI unit is an important component in the effort against animal cruelty,” said Laura Maloney, Senior Vice President of Anti-Cruelty Initiatives for the ASPCA. “This technology allows the ASPCA to strengthen cases against animal abusers and seek justice for their victims.”
Dog Fighting Conspiracy Charged in Southern District of Illinois
FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS, Ill., July 8 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — A. Courtney Cox, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Illinois, announced today that on July 7, 2009, William Berry, 34, of Lebanon, Ill.; Derrick Courtland, 42, of Cahokia, Ill.; and John Bacon, 36, Julius Jackson, 40, Joseph Addison, 40, all of East St. Louis, Ill., were charged in a criminal complaint with one count of conspiracy to commit unlawful activities of dog fighting.
The violation is alleged to have taken place between Nov. 18, 2008, and April 18, 2009, in St. Clair and Madison Counties of Illinois. The offense charged carries a potential maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000.
The defendants were taken into custody and made an appearance before a U.S. Magistrate Judge in East St. Louis on July 8, 2009. Preliminary hearings have been scheduled for Aug. 5, 2009, in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis.
A criminal complaint is only a statement of a charge brought by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Every defendant has a right to be charged by an indictment returned by a grand jury. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent of all charges unless and until he is found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
In addition to the charges unsealed today in the Southern District of Illinois, related charges were also filed in separate cases arising from the same investigation in the Eastern District of Missouri, the Western District of Missouri and the Eastern District of Texas. Those indictments were also unsealed today following the arrests of defendants in those districts.
Evidence supporting this criminal complaint was gathered in an investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General, the FBI, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Humane Society of Missouri. This dog fighting investigation is the latest in a series of major animal fighting investigations conducted throughout the country since the passage of the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act, signed into law in May 2007, which makes it a felony to participate in the blood sport. The case is assigned to Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jennifer Hudson and Mike Thompson for prosecution.
Panola County, Texas, Dogfighting Ring Busted
TYLER, Texas, July 8 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — U.S. Attorney John M. Bales announced today that this morning a combined task force of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies arrested eight individuals charged with involvement in an interstate dogfighting ring.
On July 8, 2009, agents and officers executed a federal arrest warrant in Panola County, Texas and Gregg County, Texas. Nine dogs, mostly pit bull terriers, were seized during a search of property in rural Panola County. A licensed veterinarian was on-site to examine and provide any necessary care to the dogs. Also on-site were representatives of the Humane Society of the United States, who have been consulted during the investigation.
Those named in the indictment, which was unsealed this morning, are Karl S. Courtney aka Shane, 34, of Beckville, Texas; Jerry S. Chism, aka Scotty, 34, of Longview, Texas; Jerry L. Beene, 69, of Hampton, Ark.; Jerry L. Matlock, 57, of Stilwell, Okla.; Chase M. Courtney, 26, of Carthage, Texas; Devin L. Pelzi, 29, of Beckville, Texas; Michael L. Beene, 36, of Hampton, Ark.; Harold D. Stewart, 41, of Beckville, Texas; and Chad A. Courtney, 30, of Carthage, Texas.
On June 30, 2009, a federal grand jury returned a three-count indictment charging the nine defendants with conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States; sponsoring or exhibiting an animal in an animal fighting venture; and buying, selling, delivering or transporting animals for participation in an animal fighting venture. If convicted, the defendants each face up to five years in federal prison and fines of up to $250,000.
U.S. Attorney Bales noted that today’s arrests represent a significant step in addressing what Bales described as completely reprehensible criminal activity. “I commend the agents and officers who have worked very hard on this investigation. In due time, we look forward to presenting all of the evidence that they have collected in federal court. I also appreciate the significant investigative assistance provided by the Humane Society.”
The U.S. Attorney also filed motions seeking to take legal ownership of the dogs and place the animals in the care and custody of the Humane Society. Under federal law, the government can forfeit any animals engaged in any animal fighting venture. Additionally, the U.S. Attorney is seeking a court order requiring the defendants to reimburse the Humane Society for all costs incurred for care of the animals while the animals are in the custody of the Humane Society.
The indictment resulted from an investigation that began in October 2008, and was launched by the FBI, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Texas Department of Public Safety. Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard L. Moore is prosecuting the case in coordination with U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the Eastern District of Oklahoma and Western and Eastern Districts of Missouri.
A grand jury indictment is not evidence of guilt. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
Five Charged, More Than 150 Dogs Seized in Raids on Dog Fighting Rings
ST. LOUIS, July 8 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Officers from multiple federal and state law enforcement agencies arrested five Missouri men and seized more than 150 pit bull terriers in an early morning raid on several locations involved in dog fighting ventures, Acting U.S. Attorney Michael W. Reap announced today.
The U.S. Attorney also filed motions seeking to take legal ownership of the dogs and place the animals in the care and custody of the Humane Society of Missouri. Under federal law, the government can take custody of any animals engaged in any animal fighting venture. Additionally, the U.S. Attorney is seeking a court order requiring the defendants to reimburse the Humane Society of Missouri for all costs incurred for care of the animals while the animals are in their custody.
According to the indictment, between January 2008 and June 2009, Michael Morgan, Robert Hackman, Teddy Kiriakidis, Ronald Creach and Jack Ruppel were involved in animal fighting ventures and dog fighting competitions. They established and ran various kennel operations to purchase, breed, train, condition and develop pit bull terriers for participation in the animal fighting ventures. Robert Hackman operated “Shake Rattle and Roll Kennel;” Jack Ruppel operated “Ozark Hillbillys Kennel;” Michael Morgan aka “Missouri Mike” operated “Cannibal Kennel;” and Ronald Creach operated “Hard Goodbye Kennel.”
The indictment alleges that the defendants routinely inhumanely abandoned, destroyed and otherwise disposed of pit bull terriers that lost fighting competitions, did not perform aggressively enough, or that became injured, wounded, or disabled as a result of participating in an animal fighting ventures.
In addition to the indictment unsealed today in the Eastern District of Missouri, multiple defendants were also charged in separate cases arising from the same investigation in the Western District of Missouri, the Southern District of Illinois and the Eastern District of Texas.
Headed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General, this dog fighting investigation is the latest in a series of major animal fighting investigations conducted throughout the country since the passage of the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act, signed into law in May 2007, which makes it a felony to participate in the blood sport.
“As evidenced through this and other recent investigations, animal fighting activities exist throughout the state and the country,” said Special Agent-in-Charge James L. Mendenhall. “The OIG will continue to pursue substantive allegations of animal fighting, and is committed to work in concert with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to that end.”
“We are pleased with the success of this lengthy and thorough investigation, stated Colonel James F. Keathley, Superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Undercover officers from within the Patrol’s Division of Drug and Crime Control along with the other state and federal agencies should be commended for their dedication and continued hard work in our concerted efforts to stop animal fighting.”
“The Humane Society of Missouri provided initial information that led to this investigation. During the course of the investigation they also cared for animals involved when possible, and they are presently designated to provide continuing care for the seized dogs,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Reap.
“Forcing a dog to fight to its death is not a sport,” said John V. Gillies, Special Agent-in-Charge of the St. Louis office of the FBI. “There is nothing respectable about encouraging two animals to torture and dismember each other. Individuals who participate in dog fighting claim to care for the animals, but they don’t hesitate to electrocute their helpless dog once it loses a fight and can no longer provide any financial benefit.”
Indicted in the Eastern District of Missouri: -- Michael Morgan, aka Missouri Mike, 38, of Hannibal, Mo., on two felony counts of conspiracy to commit federal offenses and one felony count of prohibitions against animal fighting ventures; -- Robert Hackman, 55, of Foley, Mo., on two felony counts of conspiracy to commit federal offenses and two felony counts of prohibitions against animal fighting ventures; -- Teddy Kiriakidis, aka Teddy Bogart, 50, of Leasburg, Mo., on one felony count of conspiracy to commit federal offenses; -- Ronald Creach, 34, of Leslie, Mo., on one felony count of conspiracy to commit federal offenses; and -- Jack Ruppel, 35, of Eldon, Mo., on two felony counts of conspiracy to commit federal offenses and two felony counts of prohibitions against animal fighting ventures.
If convicted, each count of the indictment carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and/or fines up to $250,000.
Reap commended the work on the case by the Missouri State Highway Patrol; the Humane Society of Missouri; the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General; the FBI and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew Drake, Charlie Birmingham and Julie Wright who are handling the cases for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The charges set forth in an indictment are merely accusations, and each defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
Seven Defendants From Three States Indicted for Dog Fighting
Investigation Also Resulted in Charges in Three Other Districts
KANSAS CITY, Mo., July 8 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Matt J. Whitworth, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced today that seven defendants from Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska have been indicted by a federal grand jury for participating in a conspiracy to promote and participate in dog fights. This indictment is part of a multi-state investigation that also resulted in 19 additional defendants being charged in separate cases in three other districts.
“Dog fighting inflicts serious injuries and death upon dogs that are bred and trained to be dangerously aggressive,” Whitworth said. “Like many dog owners, I am appalled that such a cruel and inhumane activity occurs in our state. We will vigorously prosecute those who illegally practice this so-called sport.”
Rick P. Hihath, 55, of St. Joseph, Mo.; Cris E. Bottcher, 48, of Gilman City, Mo.; Julio Reyes, 28, of Tecumseh, Neb.; Jill D. Makstaller, 43, of Perry, Iowa.; Zachary R. Connelly, 32, of Ogden, Iowa.; Kevin P. Tasler, 51, of Jefferson, Iowa.; and Ryan J. Tasler, 42, of Woodward, Iowa, were charged in a five-count indictment returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Kansas City, Mo., on June 23, 2009. That indictment was unsealed and made public today following the arrests of several defendants.
During the arrests and execution of search warrants, officers from multiple federal and state law enforcement agencies seized 53 dogs in early morning raids on several locations involved in dog fighting ventures.
In addition to the indictment unsealed today in the Western District of Missouri, 19 defendants were also charged in separate cases arising from the same investigation in three other districts. Those charges remain under seal but are expected to be made public today. In total, more than 350 dogs – primarily pit bull terriers – were seized in a series of coordinated raids this morning.
The federal indictment returned in the Western District of Missouri alleges that, from Jan. 15 to May 8, 2009, each of the defendants participated in a conspiracy to travel across state lines to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture and to aid in illegal gambling and bookmaking activities.
Hihath works for a state school for the handicapped. Bottcher is a registered nurse employed at Harrison County Community Hospital in Bethany, Mo. Ryan Tasler is employed by the Madrid Community School District.
According to the indictment, the defendants acquired, bred and trained pit bull dogs for the purpose of entering them in animal fighting ventures. The indictment alleges that the defendants denied the dogs adequate and humane medical treatment of wounds and injuries suffered as a result of the dog fights. The defendants routinely and inhumanely destroyed dogs that became severely injured as a result of a fight, the indictment says, by shooting the dogs in the head, then throwing the carcasses into the river or burning them in a barrel.
In addition to the conspiracy, the indictment charges both Hihath and Bottcher in two counts of sponsoring or exhibiting a pit bull dog in an animal fighting venture. Makstaller, Reyes and Kevin Tasler are each charged in one count of transporting animals for participation in an animal fighting venture, and Zachary Connelly and Ryan Tasler are each charged in one count of transporting animals for participation in an animal fighting venture.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office also filed motions seeking to take legal ownership of the dogs and place the animals in the care and custody of the Humane Society. Under federal law, the government can seek the forfeit of any animals engaged in an animal fighting venture. Additionally, the U.S. Attorney is seeking a court order requiring the defendants to reimburse the Humane Society for all costs incurred for care of the animals while the animals are in the custody of the Humane Society.
The federal indictment cites three dog fights that were allegedly held at Bottcher’s farm homestead in Gilman City, in which the defendants participated.
On Feb. 28, 2009, two dog fights allegedly occurred. Hihath fought a dog named “Black Sheep” and Bottcher fought a dog named “Pope Joe” for the match fight. According to the indictment, Hihath and Bottcher constructed the fighting pit for the dog fights. Hihath was the referee for the match, the indictment says, when Bottcher handled the dog named “Pope Joe,” and also held the bet monies for that fight. Both Hihath and Bottcher allegedly placed bets on that match fight. Three dog fighters from central Iowa allegedly attended the fight – Kevin Tasler, Ryan Tasler and Connelly. Ryan Tasler was the sponge-man, providing sponges to the dogs’ handlers to wipe blood off their dogs or cool them down during the fights.
On April 25, 2009, 12 roll fights allegedly occurred. Rolls are shorter fights between two dogs that are used by dog fighters as a means of building confidence and exposing their prospective fighting dog to a variety of fighting styles. They are viewed as a way to test younger fighting prospects, and usually don’t involve any betting. According to the indictment, Bottcher facilitated those dog fights in an outbuilding garage on the homestead. Hihath allegedly promoted this dog fighting event and had at least two dogs fight in the event. Several dog fighters from Iowa attended and participated in the fight, the indictment says, including Kevin Tasler and Makstaller. Reyes, a dog fighter from Nebraska, also attended the fights and transported two dogs to participate in the fights, according to the indictment. Hihath allegedly handled a dog in five of the 12 rolls, while Bottcher allegedly handled a dog in four of the rolls. At the end of the fight, the indictment says, Bottcher used a .22-caliber rifle to shoot and kill two dogs who fought in roll fights that night but did not perform to the handler’s/owner’s expectations. Bottcher allegedly shot each animal twice in the head, then placed the carcasses in plastic containers outside of the garage.
On May 8, 2009, two match dog fights allegedly occurred. According to the indictment, Bottcher facilitated the fights in an outbuilding garage and was the handler for his dog, “Pope Joe,” for the first fight of the night. Hihath allegedly promoted the fights, handled the bet monies for the fights, and was the referee for the second fight. Bottcher and Hihath allegedly constructed the pit for the dog fight. Thirteen dogs were observed in the fenced yard of Bottcher’s homestead and an unknown number of dogs were seen behind a board fence in Bottcher’s dog yard. Four dog fighters from Iowa – Connelly, Ryan Tasler, Kevin Tasler and Makstaller – attended the fights, according to the indictment. Connelly allegedly handled his dog, “Tommy,” in the second fight of the night. Makstaller was the referee for the first fight, the indictment says, and the timekeeper for the second fight. Tasler was the timekeeper and spongeman for the first fight, according to the indictment. Reyes allegedly brought his dog from Nebraska to the fights and was the spongeman for the second fight. Bottcher, Hihath, Ryan Tasler, Kevin Tasler, Reyes, Connelly and Makstaller allegedly wagered bets that night.
Under federal statutes, each of the five counts of the indictment carries a maximum penalty, upon conviction, of five years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $250,000.
Whitworth cautioned that the charges contained in this indictment are simply accusations, and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jane Pansing Brown and Curt Bohling. It was investigated by the Office of Inspector General-Investigations, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the FBI.
Humane Society of Missouri Animal Cruelty Task Force Works With State and Federal Agencies on Largest Dog Fighting Raid and Rescue in U.S. History; More Than 150 Pit Bulls Seized in Multi-State Operation
ST. LOUIS, July 8 /PRNewswire/ -- WHAT: In connection with what is believed to be the largest dog fighting raid in U.S. history, the Humane Society of Missouri, working in cooperation with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the United States Department of Agriculture's Office of the Inspector General, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Marshals Service and the United States Attorney, is coordinating the rescue and sheltering of dogs associated with multiple suspected organized dog fighting operations. Early this morning, officers from multiple federal and state law enforcement agencies made arrests and seized dogs in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Texas and Oklahoma. Investigators from the Humane Society of Missouri Animal Cruelty Task Force provided the information that led to the investigation. ANIMAL RESCUE, TRANSPORT AND TRIAGE Under contract with the USDA's Office of the Inspector General, the Humane Society of Missouri Animal Cruelty Task Force, working with partners from the ASPCA and Humane Society of the United States, is coordinating the multi-location effort to safely remove, transport and shelter the dogs. All pit bulls seized in Missouri and Illinois will be taken to a secure facility where the Humane Society of Missouri will conduct triage of each animal, document any evidence of dog fighting and oversee care for and shelter of the animals. All animals will receive a complete veterinary examination and necessary on-going veterinary care. The dogs will be cared for by the Humane Society of Missouri and its partners until final disposition by the United States District Court.
“The Humane Society of Missouri is vehemently opposed to this heinous blood sport. The way animals used in dog fighting are abused, at the hands of people for profit, is absolutely abhorrent,” said Kathy Warnick, president of the Humane Society of Missouri. “We are grateful to the state and federal agencies for aggressively pursuing this investigation and bringing to justice those who perpetuate the systematic torture of dogs for sport and profit. Dog fighting is happening in every community in our state, right under our noses. Hopefully, public awareness and outrage will bring an end to this cruel and heinous form of animal abuse.”
The multi-location rescue and transport operation required the training and experience of professional animal handlers from the various animal welfare organizations in addition to a variety of specialized animal transport vehicles. “Dog fighting is dangerous business – for dogs and for people,” says Tim Rickey, director of the Humane Society of Missouri’s Animal Cruelty Task Force. “The rescue teams in action today are comprised of seasoned animal handling experts. Together with our ASPCA and HSUS partners, our Animal Cruelty Task Force is the most experienced and best trained and equipped team in the country. We are very gratified with today’s rescue; it sends a significant message that this form of animal abuse will no longer be tolerated. We hope it leads to many other such operations to bring an end to dog fighting in the United States.”
ANIMAL SHELTERING AND EVALUATION Today's rescue and the resulting sheltering operation are also the largest in scope undertaken by the Humane Society of Missouri in the organization's history. To keep the animals separate from the rest of the shelter population, the dogs are not being housed in any of the Humane Society of Missouri permanent locations but rather in an off-site temporary facility. While they are being cared for, each dog will be evaluated by animal behavior experts from the Humane Society of Missouri and other organizations to determine their suitability for possible placement with rescue groups or individual adopters. The Humane Society of Missouri will make recommendations about each animal to the U.S. District Court which will make the final decision for each animal.
“We are committed to giving dogs who have come from such horrible abuse the absolute best chance for a good life,” said Debbie Hill, vice president of Operations for the Humane Society of Missouri and director of the temporary shelter. “It is a tragedy that because of mistreatment by humans for financial gain and so-called sport, many dogs used in animal fighting may not ever be able to be placed in a home situation.”