Pasco County deputies have arrested Moises Cruz, one of 70 people connected to a large-scale cockfighting ring bust in New York on Saturday night and Sunday. He was identified during Operation Angry Birds, believed to be one of the biggest cockfighting-ring busts in U.S. history.
Moises Cruz, 71, was taken into custody without incident in Wesley Chapel, Florida, about 25 miles from Tampa, at a home on Appian Place, believed to be the residence of a family member or friend. The arrest followed a call to Pasco County Sheriff’s deputies from the U.S. Marshal Service in New York.
Authorities say Cruz was the supplier of birds he bred and trained for the New York area cockfighting operation for years. He was arrested four days after raids on three locations disrupted what they described as a major pipeline for the illegal sport. He reportedly had left N.Y. before the raids.
Moises Cruz ran a sprawling breeding and training enterprise on a farm in Plattekill, N.Y., about 75 miles from Manhattan, according to court documents. Authorities said birds from the farm were taken to Queens, where five people were arrested on Saturday in a raid on a late-night cockfight.
In a separate raid that night, a pet shop owner from Brooklyn was arrested and accused of harboring birds for cockfights in Queens.
Investigators said that in all three places, they found birds that had been altered to inflict maximum damage in the ring—meaning that their spurs were removed so that sharp knives could be attached to their feet.
In addition to the 3,000 birds that were removed from the Plattekill farm and taken to a temporary shelter, a spokeswoman for the ASPCA said on Wednesday that another 3,000 remained on the farm and would be rescued in the next few days.
Two other men were arrested on the farm on Sunday: Manuel Cruz, 60, and Jesus Cruz Mendez, 37. Officials said that they were not related to Moises Cruz, but that Manuel Cruz was an uncle of Jesus Cruz Mendez, the New York Times reports.
Court documents said that when Mr. Cruz Mendez was arrested, he named Moises Cruz as the person who controlled the Plattekill farm and said that Mr. Cruz “lets other people house their roosters on the premises.”
Court documents quoted an investigator who said it appeared that the three men lived in a trailer on the farm, and dozens of cages for birds were “adjacent to the entrance of the trailer home.” Officials said the farm had several fighting pits where birds could face each other
The roosters’ spurs had been cut off and replaced with metal ones. Their combs and wattles had also been cut off. They were also fed performance-enhancing drugs, officials said; court documents said syringes and drugs “consistent with cockfighting” were found on the farm.
Emily Schneider, spokeswoman for the ASPCA, said that many of the birds were dehydrated. She said it was so cold at the Plattekill farm when it was raided that water left out for the birds had frozen.
One official said the scene was so disturbing that it would be “forever etched” in his mind.
Moises Cruz is being held at a detention center in Land O’ Lakes, Fla., for extradition to New York. He is charged with violating a state law prohibiting animal fighting.