On Monday, Attorney General George Beck Jr. announced that raids on Aug. 23 led by the FBI resulted in the arrest of 12 suspects and the seizure of 367 Pit Bulls — ranging in age from a few days to 10-12 years old. Raids in several states led to indictments on felony dog fighting charges, officials say, and they are calling it the second largest dog-fighting ring bust in U.S. history.
There were also a number of guns, illegal drugs, canine drugs and $500,000 in cash confiscated during the raids. Beck said at a press conference on Monday that some of the defendants were betting between $5,000 and $200,000 on the dog fights.
"It's a really sad day to me, a sad day of affairs of the state of Alabama," Beck said.
He announced that the success of the operation is credited to the cooperative effort of members of the Auburn Police Division, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI and other local law enforcement agencies, as well as members of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society of the United States, which removed the dogs and took them to emergency shelters where they could receive care and immediate medical attention.
“The efforts of all the parties involved led to indictments and search warrants being made across Alabama and other states, including Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas,” Beck said.
"This case is much more than just about the inhumane treatment of these dogs," said a FBI representative. "This is again about our society and the impact that these types of illegal drug activity have within our community."
According to the Opelika-Auburn News, the investigation spanned three years and was launched initially by the Auburn Police Department. APD Chief Paul Register said cases like these are some of the reasons that he and others first got into law enforcement and that it was not until the raid that he fully understood the wide-reaching effects of dog fighting.
“The inhumane treatment that we’ve all seen during this case we will not forget,” Register said.
Tim Rickey, vice president of field investigations and response for the ASPCA, said many of the animals were living in “horrendous” conditions and were chained up and malnourished. They were taken to undisclosed locations to receive treatment.
Following is the list of those arrested:
--Donnie Anderson—48, of Auburn.
--Demontt Allen—37, of Houston.
--William Antone Edwards—42, of Brantley.
--William Oneil Edwards—39, of Elba.
--Robin Stinson—40, of Elba.
--Michael Martin—54, of Auburn.
--Lawrence Watford—35, of Adel, Ga.
--Ricky Van Le—24 years old, of Biloxi, Miss.
--David Sellers—52 years old, of Opelika.
--Sandy Brown—47 years old, Brownsville
The 30-count federal indictment charges that between 2009 and 2013 the above individuals conspired to promote and sponsor dog fights and conspired to possess, buy, sell, transport and deliver dogs that were involved in dog fighting.
Individual defendants were further charged with promoting or sponsoring a dog fight and with possessing, buying, selling, transporting and delivering a dog for fighting purposes. They were also charged with conducting an illegal gambling business.
An ASPCA veterinarian stated that the conditions of the dogs varied, but a large number of the dogs appeared emaciated.
In the yard where 114 pit bulls were found together, the majority were tethered to heavy chains. They were in 90-degree heat, scratching at parasites on their skin, and she said no fresh water or food visible anywhere on the property. Some appeared to have no access to water at all, and many exhibited wounds, scars and other conditions consistent with dog fighting.
The report describes that the dogs were in makeshift, filthy dog houses — many improvised from plastic and metal barrels and others made of chipboard with rotting wood floors and rusted metal roofing. This was the only shelter provided in the sweltering heat and humidity.
Some dogs pulled at chains and cables that were tethered to cinder blocks and car tires, the report describes. A female dog did her best to tend to six puppies, just weeks old, with no food or water, in a pen littered with trash and feces.
Remains of dead animals were also discovered on some properties where dogs were housed and allegedly fought, according to investigators.
If convicted, the defendants could face up to five years in prison as well as fines and restitution.
"I believe if Dante were alive today and were rewriting the Inferno, that the lowest places in hell would be reserved for those who commit cruelty to our animals and to our children," Beck said.
“The message to dogfighters is clear," said John Goodwin, director of Animal Cruelty Policy for the HSUS. "This country will not be a refuge for their cruel blood sport. Every month brings a mighty hit against dog fighting and that will continue until the problem is dealt with."
A bill, called the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, was reintroduced to Congress this spring and has been in committee since April, Goodwin said.
Spectators are the ones who provide the gambling money that makes dog fighting and other blood sports lucrative.
“The Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act would make it a federal offense to attend an organized animal fight," he said. "The Congress can bring about the demise of dog fighting sooner by passing this bill.”