The United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama concluded sentencing today 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 HSUS (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 supervised probation to eight years—which is the longest prison term ever handed down in a federal dog fighting case.
Throughout the hearing, U.S. District Judge Keith 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.
“These dogs lived in deplorable conditions, were emaciated, had parasites, ear infections, eye infections, heartworms, fleas and ticks,” stated U.S. Attorney George L. Beck, Jr. “Their living conditions constituted extraordinary cruelty. These dogs were also made to fight and, if they lost the fight, they were killed. I hope that these sentences demonstrate the seriousness of this crime and will deter others from committing these atrocities.”
Judge Watkins also ordered that after their release from prison, each defendant serve a three-year term of supervised release. While on supervised release, the defendants are prohibited from possessing dogs.
“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.”
On August 23, 2013, The ASPCA and HSUS assisted the United States Attorney’s Office and FBI in seizing hundreds of dogs in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. 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.
We believe that there will come a time when dog fighting is seen for what it really is: the shameful pastime of cowards. But until that day comes, we will continue to fight for the victims—so that they never have to fight again.
At the request of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina (USASC) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the ASPCA is currently on the ground assisting with a federal investigation involving drugs and dog fighting in Columbia, South Carolina.
Earlier today, agents executed a search warrant and seized a dozen dogs from a property in Gaston, South Carolina. Upon arriving at the scene, ASPCA responders found severely emaciated and dehydrated dogs with scars and injuries commonly associated with dog fighting. Some were chained and anchored to car axles. The remains of deceased dogs were also found.
“The truth is that dog fighting happens all over the country, but it’s an underground activity that goes mostly unnoticed by the public,” said Tim Rickey, Vice President of the ASPCA’s Field Investigations and Response Team. “Dog fighting is often linked to other illegal activities including drugs and gambling, and we’re pleased to work alongside state, federal and local law enforcement agencies in ending these dogs’ suffering and seeing justice served.”
Earlier this month, a separate warrant was served for the removal of drugs and 35 dogs from the same property. The Lexington County Animal Shelter provided daily care for the seized dogs until the ASPCA was able to transport the dogs to a temporary shelter in an undisclosed location.
The ASPCA will continue to provide daily care for the dogs at the temporary shelter until custody is determined by the court. PetSmart Charities® is sending supplies such as pet crates, toys and treats to support the rescue operation.
We are committed to helping these dogs heal, both physically and emotionally, but we need your support now more than ever. When you make a gift today, you will help provide these dogs with the urgent care they so desperately need, and you’ll help us continue to rescue victims of animal cruelty across the country.
In May, the ASPCA assisted in the rescue, removal and sheltering of more than 550 birds from properties associated with cockfighting in Virginia. Five people charged in conjunction with the case have now received sentencing, and today we have an update on their status.
On Thursday, a federal judge sentenced Kentucky man Walter Stumbo, 51, to 18 months in prison. His wife, Sonya Stumbo, 51, and their son, Joshua Stumbo, 33, each received ten months. Sonya Stumbo was convicted at trial and the other two pleaded guilty to multiple charges, including possession of an animal for use in animal fighting.
In addition, Wesley Robinson, 57, and his son Jonathan Robinson, 33, each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to operate an illegal gambling enterprise and illegally conducting cockfights; one count of transporting fighting roosters across state lines; one count of transporting bird fighting knives across state lines; and one count of illegally distributing oxycodone.
On August 27, Wesley Robinson was sentenced to six months in prison. On October 8, Jonathan Robinson was sentenced to join his father in prison for a sentence of one year and one day.
“The cruel and inhumane practice of cockfighting has no place in civilized society and is against federal law,” U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy said in a written statement. “We will vigorously investigate and prosecute individuals who attend, facilitate, or profit from the misery inflicted on animals during these barbaric fights.”
In the aftermath of the raid, the ASPCA has learned more about the illegal cockfighting operation. Known as the “Big Blue” Cock Fighting Pit, the enterprise in McDowell, Kentucky, featured arena-style seating, multiple fighting pits and a restaurant. The Robinsons reportedly brought the birds from Wise County, Virginia, to Big Blue on weekends, and spectators allegedly travelled from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Georgia, and other states to attend fights at Big Blue.
“Big Blue” had approximately 5,000 members. Entrance fees ranged from $250 to $2,500, and over $90,000 in cash was seized at the Stumbo’s home.
On September 18, the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response Team assisted in the rescue of over a dozen dogs from a poorly ventilated mobile home in Madison, Wisconsin. The dogs were found living amongst feces, trash, and rotting food, and many exhibited signs of dehydration and neglect.
After their rescue, the dogs were transported to a temporary shelter established by the ASPCA where they received medical care and behavior assessments. Additionally, ASPCA behaviorists provided enrichment and socialization to reduce stress and improve mental health. Nine of the dogs will now be transferred to Dane County Humane Society in Madison, Wisconsin to be made available for adoption.
“Today is a big step forward for these dogs,” said Jessica Rushin, Senior Partnerships Manager for ASPCA Field Investigations and Response. “We hope the residents of Madison will open up their homes to give these animals a chance to be someone’s pet.”
The remaining dogs will require behavioral rehabilitation for extreme fear and undersocialization. They will be transported to the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center in Madison, New Jersey, where animal behavior experts will provide ongoing treatment to improve their well-being and help them become suitable for adoption. “Our goal is to help these dogs overcome their fears and become ready for the next chapter of their lives,” said Kristen Collins, Director of the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center.
If you are interested in adopting one of the nine dogs at Dane County Humane Society, visit www.giveshelter.org/adopt for more information.
Guest blog by Deborah Press, ASPCA Senior Manager of Regulatory Affairs
Today the ASPCA and the nation’s most capable and caring hearts and minds—from the Department of Justice, the FBI, USDA, and other organizations—met to problem solve around the future of animals rescued from fighting operations. The ASPCA and its government partners came together under the auspices of the Department of Justice’s Animal Cruelty Working Group, to ensure that the process for seizing animals used in these heinous crimes is as smooth and efficient as possible so that more animals can be saved.
The ASPCA regularly works side by side with federal, state and local law enforcement to save animals from cruelty and build criminal cases against abusers. When the ASPCA assists law enforcement in animal fighting raids, the animals are held in limbo as evidence—for over a year sometimes—while prosecutors and law enforcement agencies pursue cases against accused animal fighters. As a result, the animals must stay in temporary shelters and cannot begin their new lives in forever homes.
Animal fighting victims aren’t like other criminal evidence that can be warehoused in storage lockers for years at a time. These animals have delicate behavioral needs, and even with the best staff behaviorists in the country tending to them, rescued dogs often deteriorate psychologically after many months caged in a temporary shelter environment to the point where they cannot be adopted.
We are grateful to our partners for all of the work they do to stamp out animal fighting and for throwing their expertise and passion for animals into this important cooperative conversation.