ASPCA Plays Major Role in Largest Cockfighting Bust in New York State History

As many as 3,000 fighting roosters seized from animal fighting ring spanning Queens, Kings & Ulster Counties
February 9, 2014

New York, N.Y.—At the request of the New York State Attorney General’s Office, the ASPCA® (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®)—in conjunction with the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office and New York State Police—is assisting in the forensic evidence collection, removal, transport and sheltering of as many as 3,000 fighting roosters from three counties spanning Queens, Kings and Ulster, N.Y. This is one of the largest cockfighting cases in U.S. history and the largest cockfighting case in New York state history.

“No animal should be forced to fight to the death, and we’re proud to play a leading role in removing and caring for these victimized birds, as well as offering expert legal assistance in this case,” said Matthew Bershadker, president and CEO of the ASPCA. “This collaborative act of investigation, intervention and enforcement is a giant step toward our shared goal of wiping out cockfighting in America.”

The case focused on three locations over two days:

On Saturday, February 8, the ASPCA seized 65 birds as a result of a cockfighting bust by law enforcement agencies in Woodhaven, Queens. Six arrests were made for violation of the animal fighting law. The ASPCA Field Investigations and Response team also discovered rooster carcasses that had been killed earlier in the night during the cockfighting event. Simultaneously, police executed a search warrant at Pet NV, a pet shop in Bushwick, Brooklyn owned by Jeremias Nieves, resulting in the seizure of 50 roosters as well as other animals including hamsters, finches, rabbits and snakes. ASPCA responders found the roosters living inside metal cages in the basement of the pet shop, with physical alterations to the roosters consistent with cockfighting.

Cockfighting paraphernalia was discovered at both the Brooklyn and Queens properties, including artificial spurs, candle wax, medical adhesive tape, syringes used to inject performance enhancing drugs to strengthen the roosters’ fighting ability, and other cockfighting implements and paraphernalia. At both sites, the ASPCA assisted authorities by identifying and documenting evidence with state-of-the-art forensics tools.

The following morning, February 9, the ASPCA assisted law enforcement agencies as they raided a 90-acre farm where as many as 3,000 roosters and hens were seized. The farm had operated for years under the guise of a live poultry farm, and the birds were living in deplorable conditions. Many showed signs of starvation and other conditions requiring medical attention. The owner of the property collected rent from rooster owners and blood sport enthusiasts in exchange for boarding, feeding and caring for their birds, who were bred and trained for fighting.

The ASPCA established a temporary shelter at an undisclosed location, where the birds will be cared for and housed pending disposition. Agencies assisting the ASPCA with transport, sheltering and removal include: Berkshire Humane Society (Pittsfield, Mass.); Charleston Animal Society (Charleston, S.C.); Citizens for Humane Action (Columbus, Ohio); Florida Disaster Animal Response and Transport (Bushnell, Fla.); Florida State Animal Response Coalition (Bushnell, Fla.); Golden Valley Animal Humane (Golden Valley, Minn.); Medina SPCA (Medina, Ohio); Mohawk Hudson Humane Society (Menands, N.Y.); MSPCA (Boston, Mass.); SPCA of Erie County (Tonawanda, N.Y.); and Wayside Waif (Kansas City, Mo.).

“Our primary goal was to immediately remove these birds from a cycle of violence and suffering,” said Stacy Wolf, senior vice president of the ASPCA’s Anti-Cruelty Group. “We’re proud to lend our expertise in partnership with the New York State Attorney General’s Office and to work alongside law enforcement agencies to help put an end to this heinous and senseless crime.”

Gambling was present at the fights, with records of individual wagers reaching $10,000.

In cockfighting cases, birds commonly suffer punctured lungs, broken bones and pierced eyes. These injuries are often the result of knives and artificial gaffs—long, sharp, dagger-like devices—attached to the birds to maximize injury. It is also common for fighting birds to be injected with or fed various drugs to enhance their performance. Cockfighting is often closely connected to other crimes including gambling, drug possession, and weapons possession.

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. Additionally, attending a cockfight is a misdemeanor, with a possible sentence of up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Thanks in part to the work of the ASPCA and advocates from around the country, the Farm Bill signed by President Obama on February 7 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.