Laura Acampora and her husband Shane Santiago ran a brutal, atavistic dog-fighting business from a home they shared with five children in West Brandywine, a township in Chester County, Pa.
Acampora pleaded guilty on Tuesday and agreed to testify against her husband should he go to trial.
Acampora, 34, has been held in Chester County Prison since the couple’s arrest in December 2012. She entered pleas to three counts of animal cruelty and one count each of endangering the welfare of children, corruption of minors, and criminal conspiracy, the Daily Local News reports.
Acampora admits that she knowingly participated in the hosting and training of dogs for the purposes of fighting them and that she did so for gain and amusement, said Assistant District Attorney Priya DeSouza, who is prosecuting the case.
When she presented the plea, DeSouza told Senior Judge Thomas Gavin that she would present victim-impact letters from people in the community who were shaken by the allegations, “including the death and torture of dogs involved — as well as photos of the dogs, tools that were used in training the dogs, and the residence where the family lived and held the dog fights.”
Acampora did not address the judge other than to answer his questions about whether she knew what she was doing by entering the guilty pleas, according to Michael P. Rellahan of the Daily Local News.
In exchange for her agreement to cooperate with the prosecution, she was granted bail and released from prison.
PIT BULLS CAGED, TORTURED, AND BURNED ALIVE
Acampora and her husband were involved in particularly brutal and sadistic activities in what they considered a “family business.” The gruesome enterprise was discovered after a series of dead dogs were found in the West Brandywine area, including one named Radar, who was found badly mauled in February and left for dead in a roadside ravine.
Another pit bull was found dead, caged and burned along Route 82 in West Brandywine in September. At the time of their arrests, District Attorney Tom Hogan said that dog was burned alive after it was used in dog fighting. The juvenile pit bull was found just miles, and on the same road, as Santiago’s residence.
“We knew that somewhere in western Chester County a dog fighting ring was going on,” Hogan said, explaining how authorities focused on Santiago and Acampora.“When we got into that home what we found was a nightmare. This was a full scale operation of not only dog fighting, but dog training, dog breeding, and dog killing.”
An “arena” was discovered in the home’s basement. Plywood barriers were set up around the fighting area, and blood spattered the walls and floor. “The carpet was covered in the blood of the dogs that fought there,” Hogan told the Daily Local News.
Investigators learned that up to 16 pit bulls were kept in the home at one time. They discovered a full-scale training operation, including a treadmill and other tools used to encourage the dogs’ aggression.
CHILDREN EXPOSED TO DOG FIGHTING IN THE HOME
DeSouza told the court that not only did the couple host dog fights in their home, but that they exposed their children — ages 3 to 15 at the time — to the training, and in the case of the eldest, to the fights themselves.
“Her children cared for the pit bulls that were being trained to attack other creatures,” DeSouza read in a statement to Gavin about the case. “On one occasion, one of the pit bulls bit the eldest child in the home. Shane Santiago killed this pit bull by hanging the animal from a rope inside the basement [in the couple’s home].”
“On another occasion, Santiago killed a different animal by hanging [it] in this same basement when that animal failed to win a fight,” she said. Detectives found a photograph of the dead dog on Acampora’s cell phone, along with videos of pit bulls being trained.
Based on the fact that Acampora has no prior criminal record, with the exception of summary retail theft charges, the guidelines that Gavin will use as the basis of sentencing start at three months in prison. He could require that all the sentences be served consecutively for a term of a year or more in state prison.
Santiago’s trial on the charges is scheduled for November.
ACAMPORA RELEASED ON BAIL, AWAITS SENTENCING
Senior Judge Thomas Gavin will sentence Acampora at a later date. He told her that he had received numerous letters from people expressing outrage over the case and demanding a strict sentence.
The judge stated that, although allegations against her were “horrific,” he will not react emotionally when considering her punishment. “I will sentence you based on the facts and not be swayed by what people are telling me,” Judge Gavin stated.
Source: Daily Local