Four defendants plead guilty Friday and Thursday to federal dog-fighting charges during inter-state incidents spanning from New Mexico to New Jersey, according to officials.
Each animal fighting charge carries a maximum sentence of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The following people plead guilty in federal court:
Anthony “Monte” Gaines, 36, of Vineland, New Jersey, a/k/a “Whiteboy,” pleaded guilty yesterday to two felony counts of conspiracy to buy, sell, receive, transport, deliver, and possess dogs intended for use in an animal fighting venture, and one felony count of possessing a dog intended for use in an animal fighting venture.
Lydell Harris, 32, of Vineland, New Jersey, a/k/a “Sinn,” pleaded guilty Thursday to one felony count of conspiracy to sponsor or exhibit a dog in an animal fighting venture, and one felony count of possessing a dog intended for use in an animal fighting venture.
Frank Nichols, 40, of Millville, New Jersey, pleaded guilty to Friday to one felony count of conspiracy to transport, deliver and receive dogs intended for use in an animal fighting venture, and one felony count of possessing a stolen firearm subsequent to a felony conviction.
The weapons charge against Nichols carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The investigation is ongoing.
Pedro Cuellar, 47, of Willow Springs, Illinois, plead guilty today to one felony count of conspiracy to transport, deliver, and receive dogs intended for use in an animal fighting venture.
Mario Atkinson, 42, of Asbury Park, New Jersey, plead guilty on June 15.
He admitted to one count of sponsoring or exhibiting a dog in an animal fighting venture, and one count of possessing a dog intended for use in an animal fighting venture.
Nichols and Harris plead guilty to indictments. Gaines, Cuellar, and Atkinson were charged with Bills of Information.
Charges remain pending against four defendants.
According to court documents filed in connection with the cases, from October 2015 through June 1, 2016, the defendants and their co-defendants and associates fought dogs – including to the death – and trafficked in dogs with other dog fighters in Indiana, Illinois, New Mexico, and elsewhere .
They also maintained fighting dogs and dog fighting equipment such as dog treadmills, intravenous drug bags, and lines, “breeding stands” used to immobilize female dogs, and chains weighing up to several pounds per linear foot.
Agents found canine blood on the floor, walls, and ceiling of the basement of one defendant’s residence, indicating that the area was likely used as a dog fighting pit.
Among other acts involved in the charges, one of the pleading defendants admitted that his dog died in his car on the way home after losing a dog fight.
“Justice is being delivered in these cases,” said Acting Assistant Attorney Jeffrey H. Wood of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
Adding, “Ending animal fighting ventures and other inhumane practices depend upon the hard work of investigators and lawyers like those who brought these cases and will also require continued partnership with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.”
This case is part of Operation Grand Champion, a coordinated effort across numerous federal judicial districts to combat organized dog fighting.
The phrase “Grand Champion” is used by dog fighters to refer to a dog with more than five dog-fighting “victories.”
To date, 98 dogs have been rescued as part of Operation Grand Champion, and either surrendered or forfeited to the government. The Humane Society of the United States assisted with the care of the dogs seized by federal law enforcement.