'Angry Birds’ Operation Busts New York Cockfighting Ring

| by Phyllis M Daugherty

Nine people were arrested and over 3,000 fighting roosters and hens were seized when New York authorities busted a cockfighting ring believed to be one of the biggest ever uncovered in the United States.

Operation ‘Angry Birds,' named after a popular mobile game, targeted a gambling operation where people bet up to $10,000 on a single fight to see roosters battle to their death, ABC News reports. It was the biggest cockfighting bust in New York history, authorities said.

A cockfight in Queens, a pet shop in Brooklyn, and a farm in upstate Plattekill were raided Saturday night into Sunday by the task force, with the help of New York State Police, the Homeland Security Department and the Ulster County sheriff's office, according to a news release from State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office.

The Queens raid disrupted a 70-person event, which included bettors and spectators of the bimonthly fight.

Simultaneously in Brooklyn, law enforcement officials busted the owner of a pet shop called Pet NV, after 50 fighting birds were taken from the basement, according to a written statement. The birds were found in poor condition inside metal cages.

Cockfighting contraband -- including artificial spurs, candle wax, medical adhesive tape and syringes used to inject performance-enhancing drugs into the roosters -- was also found in the basement.

The owner of the pet shop, Jeremias Nieves, 74, was arrested and charged with prohibition of animal fighting.

The Ulster County sheriff's office and other local law enforcement also helped OCTF investigators raid the 90-acre farm in Plattekill.

The ASPCA recovered up to 3,000 birds that had been bred, trained and given performance-enhancement drugs from the farm, which has been operating as a live poultry farm for years, according to the release.

For years, the roosters, which were bred and trained at the farm, were then taken to the cockfighting event raided in Queens and the pet shop in Brooklyn.

More than 70 people at the building were detained and questioned, and about 65 birds were seized. Nine people were charged with felonies, punishable by up to four years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.

Spectators paid admission and a seat fee for the all-night fights in the basement, where alcohol and drugs were sold, prosecutors said.

Humane societies and animal rescue groups in seven states are helping with the transfer and sheltering of the animals, officials said.

New York Attorney General Schneiderman announced the arrests:

"Cockfighting is a cruel, abusive and barbaric practice that tortures animals, endangers the health and safety of the public and is known to facilitate other crimes. My office will keep working to hold these individuals accountable, and put an end to illegal cockfighting," said Schneiderman.

Cockfighting is a crime in all 50 states. In New York, cockfighting and possession of a fighting bird at a fighting location are felonies that carry a maximum sentence of four years in jail and a fine of $25,000.

Sources: ABC, CNN