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.
At the request of the Indiana Gaming Commission Gaming Control Division, the ASPCA is assisting in the removal of more than 15 animals, including birds and dogs, from properties associated with cockfighting in Fayette and Henry Counties, Indiana.
The investigation began as a cockfighting investigation, and search warrants were executed Thursday morning for the seizure of roosters. The remaining animals were subsequently surrendered. Without access to proper food or water, many of the animals appeared to be malnourished and suffering from medical issues.
The ASPCA is assisting with intake and removal, and will transport the animals to a temporary shelter established by the Johnson County Animal Control, where they will receive medical exams and veterinary care. Our cockfighting experts are also guiding evidence collection to identify tools, drugs and other paraphernalia used in cockfighting. The animals will remain at the temporary shelter until custody is determined.
“We’re pleased to work with local authorities in removing these animals from a cruel situation,” said Kathryn Destreza, Investigations Director of the ASPCA Field Investigations & Response’s team, “sending a message that cockfighting and other crimes against animals will not be tolerated in this community or anywhere in the country.”
Cockfighting continues to be an insidious problem in the United States. Though it is illegal in every state, this brutal blood sport has been found in all types of communities and amongst all sorts of people. The ASPCA is dedicated to helping its victims and ending the cruel practice altogether.
Earlier this week, we told you about our support of a massive cockfighting bust that spanned three counties in New York State. At the request of the New York State Attorney General's Office, the ASPCA is still on the ground at an Ulster County farm, assisting with the removal, transport and sheltering of as many as 4,000 fighting roosters.
While our responders establish a temporary shelter, where the birds will be cared for and housed pending court disposition, law enforcement officers have arrested three individuals associated with the farm, where birds allegedly destined for cockfights, were bred and trained. The owner of the property was apprehended in south Florida, and according to investigators and an article in the New York Times, has operated an extensive cockfighting pipeline for years.
Several other arrests were made on Saturday night when investigators busted a cockfight in Queens and raided a pet shop in Brooklyn. Cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states. In New York, cockfighting and possession of a fighting bird at a cockfighting location are felonies, with each charge carrying a maximum penalty of four years in jail and a maximum fine of $25,000.
This past weekend, I had the privilege to be among the ASPCA team assisting New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and New York State's Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF) in the execution of the largest cockfighting takedown in New York State history, and among the largest in United States history.
The ASPCA's Field Investigations and Response team is leading the removal of the animals, as well as identifying and documenting forensic evidence. We also established a temporary shelter at an undisclosed location to house and care for the animals.
On Saturday night, I was at the gruesome scene of the raided cockfights in Queens, New York, where we removed 65 birds. The basement was small and dirty, and seemed permanently haunted by the atrocities it had housed for many years. This cockfighting ring had been holding bimonthly events there since May. That same night, another 50 birds were removed from a Brooklyn pet shop.
The massive show of force on display was awe-inspiring. That the state committed such intense resources sends a strong message to the entire bloodsport industry about the appropriate seriousness with which it considers these crimes.
As horrific as these scenes get, it's important for those of us in animal advocacy to see with our own eyes the depth of man's cruelty towards defenseless animals. No one falls into cockfighting or just shows up at a cockfight by chance. Whether you're participating, refereeing, or just watching, it's a malicious, unconscionable, criminal act.
I knew there were only two reasons for cockfighting: sadism and greed. But as I stood in that dank Queens subterranean room, surrounded by a palpable atmosphere of death and suffering, I realized the two are linked at their core. The greed is inherently sadistic; the sadism is fed and magnified by greed.
Owners and spectators placed bets on the outcomes of the fights, with individual wagers reaching $10,000. These fights, which began in the evening and lasted into early morning hours, pitted dozens of roosters against one another in battles to the death. Often in such cases, the roosters are injected or fed drugs to enhance their performance, mutilated without anesthesia, and forced to wear sharp weapons intended to inflict maximum injury in the pit. Injuries we see include punctured lungs, broken bones, and pierced eyes. Win or lose, the inevitable result is agonizing death.
On Sunday morning, OCTF investigators, with the help of the Ulster County Sheriff's Office, State Police and other local law enforcement, raided a 90-acre farm in Plattekill. There, the ASPCA recovered approximately 4,000 more birds, belonging to rooster owners from all over the Northeast, including New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
These arrests and the enormous number of animal seized should open some eyes to the modern face of this abhorrent crime; it's both more prevalent and more savage than most dare to think.
While there are obvious differences between roosters and more typical companion animals, let there be no mistake in our position, or weakening of our resolve: Cockfighting is a very serious crime, and an example of animal cruelty at its most heinous and deplorable. No animal should be forced to fight for human amusement and profit.
It's encouraging to know that most people agree on this issue, and stand united to ending the brutality, whether it takes place on a rural farm, a city pet shop, a residential basement, or anywhere else.
Cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states, and punishable as a felony in 40 states. The possession of birds for fighting is prohibited in 38 states, and being a spectator is illegal in 43 states.
We were happy to see that the Farm Bill signed by President Obama last week includes a measure to strengthen federal animal fighting laws by making attending an animal fight a federal offense. It also imposes additional penalties for bringing a child to an animal fight.
Still, while this weekend's efforts removed thousands of roosters and hens from cruel abuse, there are many thousands of animals out there suffering the same sad fate.
The ASPCA will continue to partner with law enforcement, champion anti-cruelty legislation, and be present on the front lines to ensure that we're doing all we can to end the brutality, including prosecuting participants to the fullest extent of the law.
Doing less would not only leave animals unprotected, but would signal to society that certain forms of abject cruelty are conscionable, that we don't care about desensitizing our society—and our children— to despicable animal abuse.
We can't let that happen, and this strong collaborative act of investigation, intervention and enforcement is a loud step toward our shared goal of wiping out cockfighting in this country. You can help us take the next step by sharing this story with friends, neighbors, colleagues, and state or federal representatives.
The ASPCA is assisting in the forensic evidence collection, removal, transport and sheltering of more than 60 fighting roosters from a property in Spencer, Indiana. Other animals including dogs and farm animals were also seized from the property. We’re assisting at the request of the Indiana Gaming Commission, the Gaming Control Division and the Monroe County Humane Association.
At the property this morning, responders discovered rooster remains and roosters showing signs of starvation and other conditions requiring medical attention. The roosters were housed in outdoor pens or tethered outside with no access to water.
The animals were transferred to a temporary shelter where they will receive veterinary care from the ASPCA’s medical team. ASPCA veterinary technicians, animal handlers and responders are also assisting on the scene and at the temporary shelter.
A search warrant, issued by Owen County Circuit Court, was executed Wednesday morning for the removal of the birds, as was an arrest warrant for Jeffrey Russell Pierce, 26. Pierce was arrested on charges of possession of fighting animals, promoting an animal fighting contest and possession of animal fighting paraphernalia.
In Indiana, cockfighting and the possession of birds for fighting are Class D felonies, each punishable by up to three years in a state prison and a maximum $10,000 fine. Possession of implements is a Class B misdemeanor with up to 180 days in a state jail and a maximum $1,000 fine.
The ASPCA is also assisting the Indiana Gaming Control Division in documenting animal related evidence for the criminal case and lending the services of its Field Investigations and Response and Veterinary Forensics teams. The Indiana State Police, the Indiana Board of Animal Health and the Owen County Prosecutor are also assisting in the operation.
“Cockfighting is a brutal blood sport where the unwilling participants—the roosters—are forced to fight, often to the death, for the entertainment and financial gain of their owners,” says Terry Mills, Director of Blood Sports for the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response team. “The ASPCA is proud to lend our expertise in animal fighting and forensic evidence collection to local authorities to help put an end to this disturbing activity and secure justice for the animal victims.”