* Two-acre site raided early Friday yields 'well-run' dog-fighting facility
Orangeburg County Sheriff Larry Williams addresses the press announcing the recovery of the largest dog-fighting operation in the state of South Carolina. The site, located off Interstate 26 along Evette Road, housed over 70 dogs including pit bulls. A large amount of fighting and training equipment was also seized.
Over 70 pit bull terriers and an estimated half-million dollars' worth of dog-training equipment was seized in northern Orangeburg County during a multiagency task force raid. Law enforcement officials are calling the Friday morning raid the biggest dog-fighting operation bust in the state. "In my 25 years as a law enforcement agent, I've seen quite a few dog operations," Orangeburg County Sheriff Larry Williams said. "But this is the largest training facility I've seen. If you look around, you'll see all the dogs and the training equipment. This is a well-run operation."
Ricky Hanton, of 257 Yvette Road, Orangeburg, has been arrested and charged with 11 counts of illegal fighting and baiting of animals in connection with the dog-fighting facility. Williams said investigators were tipped off while investigating a drug-related case in April. Backed with recent illegal dog-fighting prevention courses offered by the Humane Society and Orangeburg-based Healing Species, officers made the barbaric discovery.
"This is a sick operation," Williams said. "To have animals fighting to the death is disgusting." The area is spread over approximately two acres in a wooded area off Yvette Road. The training facility is near the Calhoun County line and about three miles off Columbia Road. The 72 dogs seized Friday and found in various conditions of health each had an individual space, or pod, which consisted of a dog house and a board laying across the dog house for climbing exercise.
Invariably, a mound of dirt surrounded by a dugout area revealed the extent of the tow chains used to keep each dog in place. The tow chain was then welded or wrapped around a car axle buried in the ground. The reason was obvious: training equipment that would rival an Olympic facility. "Cat mills" or "jennies," machines similar to horse walkers, but smaller, designed to build strength and treadmills designed specifically for animals. Stephenson said the treadmills seized at the Yvette Road facility are the most advanced models he has seen. "That's definitely a new style," he said. "It's like a Cadillac."
Dozens of dog-fighting magazines seized in a garage boast of the prowess of previous champions, training tips and advertisements for exercise equipment. In a magazine called "Face the Dog," letters to the editors were void of emotion concerning the brutal sport. "Hi Bobby," one letter reads. "My friend sent me a copy of your magazine and it looks good. Enclosed (sic) a picture of RALEIGH who lost half his face while winning his second match."
Another letter in a magazine records the death of a dog. "I'm also sending you a picture of CH. BLONDIE. She was very dear to me. When I lost her I lost part of myself. Also enclosed are a couple of match reports."
The more investigators searched, the more gruesome the picture became. Antibiotics, steroids, syringes and other medical equipment was found. A stainless steel medicine box, similar to a doctor's bag, contained approximately 60 syringes. Two boxes that once contained over 200 syringes lay empty beside the medicine box.
Several pieces of equipment were constructed of a metal base with two padded stirrups projecting vertically from the base platform. Straps over the stirrups completed what the investigators called a "rape box." Police say the device is a safe means for breeding the fighting animals. "Just like the male, the female is trained to attack," Stephenson said. "What they'll do is strap down the female so the male can breed with her without getting chewed up."
A 25-foot long storage shed contained approximately 2,400 pounds of high-protein dog food that specialists say is used for building muscle. Eddie Haigler, Orangeburg County Animal Control Program Manager, said the roughly 60 bags of dog food would cost about $20 a bag. "That's the good food," he said . "You have this high-quality so they'll grow, you know. You can either eat chicken or steak. He's feeding them steak."
All of the training and expenses incurred for the animals are for a reason. Stephenson said there are three levels of competition ranging from what is called "streetfighter" to "mid-level" to "professional." The massive Yvette Road seizure is at the professional level, Stephenson said, that can bring the owner thousands of dollars for a single win.
"This level? You're talking tens of thousands of dollars," he said. "I know of a guy who came from New Orleans and bet $60,000. And lost." The winners, if lucky enough, can go on to become considered champions and grand champions, with three wins and five wins, respectively. Those fortunate few will then become stud dogs, Stephenson said.
But an animal losing its owner thousands of dollars in a professional match will not be so fortunate. "They kill it," Stephenson said. "It's no good to the owner. They're only interested in winners." As if to emphasize the brutal fact, several pods have grass growing where there used to be an animal straining against its chain anxious for affection. "The pit bulls are friendly to humans, almost child-like," Stephenson said. "But they're vicious with other animals."
An obvious veteran pit bull bore the scars of many battles. Half of the left side of its face was missing along with several teeth, his face scarred. Across the compound was the arena, a 16-foot square-fenced area also boarded up. Inside, investigators found canine teeth. Other evidence of what must have been tremendous battles was splattered along the boards that serve to shield spectators. "We used a chemical agent to identify blood and other animal tissue," Williams said. "It's a crime scene, that's what it is."
Investigators have seized 11 of the animals while the rest have been placed under a "seized on site" warrant. First Circuit assistant solicitor Richard Lackey said it is hoped videotapes confiscated at the facility will reveal the identity of others participating in illegal dog fights. "It's a gruesome scene," Lackey said. "Hopefully, it will be swift prosecution and we'll be able to salvage the animals and they'll have somewhat of a decent life. I've never seen anything like this before."
Williams said the seized animals will be kept at county facilities until a court date can be determined. After court proceedings, it is hoped to save the animals from euthanasia. The trickledown effect of the massive dog-fighting bust can result in a list of other investigations being launched, Williams said. Drugs, illegal weapons, gambling and untold abuse of the animals surround a dog fight.
"I don't think the average person just doesn't know what goes on at these brutal meetings," Williams said. "Who else would be meeting in the dark of night fighting animals to the death?" The investigation into the largest bust in South Carolina history is ongoing, Williams said. More arrests are expected.
A fight held in 1958. Two dogs, too exhausted to stand, grapple as their owners watch keenly.
* Dog-fighting - six dogs seized 1/23/2004
St. Lucie County (Florida) Sheriff's drug investigators making a drug arrest at a home in Port St. Lucie also found six pit bull terrier dogs that had been used for dog fighting, said Sheriff Ken J. Mascara.
One of the dogs had been used for "dog baiting" and mauled by other dogs, the Sheriff said. "The most seriously injured dog had most of its face chewed off," the Sheriff said. "This was a sickening display of animal cruelty at its most sadistic and inhuman." The other five dogs were emaciated and had wounds from dog fighting.
Deputies placed all six dogs in the care of the Humane Society of Fort Pierce where veterinary specialists are treating them, the Sheriff said. Humane Society officials said the most seriously injured dog was not in pain from the facial injuries, but that the severity of the injuries would require euthanization of the animal. "We have had a continuing investigation under way into organized dog-fighting rings operated by drug dealers traveling all over the state," the Sheriff said. "We will continue this investigation in hopes of finding those responsible for these reprehensible and disgusting acts of cruelty."
Arrested on charges of marijuana possession with intent to sell, animal cruelty and animal fighting or baiting were: Margaret C. Hester, 45, and Robert James Hester, 43, both of 2262 S.E. Shipping Road, Port St. Lucie. Both also were arrested on drug charges.
Margaret Hester was at the home when detectives served a search warrant. Robert Hester drove up to the home after investigators had arrived. He had several grams of cocaine in his pocket worth an estimated $500. Deputies arrested him on additional charges of possession of cocaine and drug paraphernalia. Marijuana found at the home is worth an estimated $1,500. Attached are booking photos of the two defendants and photos of the animal cruelty.
Margaret Hester posted $23,000 bond this morning and was released from the St. Lucie County jail pending future court proceedings. As of late Friday morning, Robert Hester remained confined at the St. Lucie County jail under $28,500 bond.
*1/19/2004 Jones County (Georgia)
COVINGTON — Cash, blood, mud and drugs flowed freely at the site of a former church on Baker Lane in Newton County Saturday night when law enforcement officers from 14 agencies converged on the scene of an organized dog fight. According to Newton County Sheriff Joe Nichols, 123 were arrested and more than a quarter of a million dollars in cash was seized. The suspects were still being booked into the new Newton County Detention Center as late as noon Sunday. Nichols said, at that time, only two of the suspects had given a Newton County address. Most were from Middle Georgia, but some had come to the fight from as far away as Louisiana and Michigan.
When the Newton County/Covington S.W.A.T. Team entered the premises during a pouring rain, Nichols said it was one of the most horrific sights he has witnessed in his career.
IIt was one of the most horrible things I have experienced,” he said. “While we were trying to restrain the suspects, the dogs just kept on fighting. A woman had her 4- or 5-year-old child there, serving spectators chicken and barbecue.”
Nichols said investigators believe there were 14 dogs being used by the gambling operation, which was offering $50,000 to the owner of the dog left standing at the end of the evening. They found 13 pit bulldogs alive and one dead. A veterinarian accompanied law enforcement officers during the raid, and though they believe only one match had been held by that time, two of the dogs were already injured to the extent that they had to be euthanized. “It was one of the saddest things. I didn’t know they fought female dogs. I thought it was mainly males, but this one female dog was in the pit and she was just about dead,” Nichols said, adding that one of her eyes had been torn out and an ear was missing, among other injuries. “She drug herself over to the edge of the pit and some of the deputies were petting her. She just laid there and wagged her tail, not the least bit aggressive to people. Those were probably the first kind pats the dog had ever had. It makes you want to cry.”
That dog was one of the two euthanized at the scene. The others were taken to the Newton County Animal Control compound, and their fate has yet to be determined.
He said appropriate papers would be filed to confiscate the property, the cash and the 66 automobiles, which include many high-dollar vehicles such as Cadillacs, Lexus’ and SUVs, all of which are believed to be owned by fight organizers or spectators. Numerous weapons and quantities of drugs, including approximately 2 kilos of marijuana, were seized, as well. “We found $17,000 in cash just thrown in a closet,” he said. “The money and the drugs were just thrown down all over the place, mixed in with the dogs’ blood and the fried chicken and barbecue. Tickets to attend this thing were $150.”
“I wish we could have gotten there before any of the dogs were hurt, but we had to wait until they were actually fighting in order to have probable cause,” he said.
Charges against the 123 suspects (less than half a dozen were women) will include felony dog fighting and commercial gambling. Other charges will be filed on an individual basis, including weapons, drug and probation violation charges. By noon Sunday, some suspects were already bonding out, but none of them had vehicles and had to have someone come and provide them with transportation.
* Flint — (03/09/04) Investigators seized much more than drugs and money when they entered a home on Flint's north side Monday. The Flint Area Narcotics Group raided a home day on West Alma Street after receiving numerous drug trafficking complaints.
Not only did they find five stolen guns and 8 pounds of marijauna, but also 11 pit bulls believed to be part of a dog-fighting ring. Inside the home, FANG officers discovered the blood-covered basement had been set up for dog fighting. The evidence was overwhelming -- a pry bar used to provoke dog fighting, a scale to weigh the dogs, pain medication, and three dog-training treadmills.
Outside the home, police confirmed their suspicion. They found 11 pit bulls chained to a fence. Genesee County animal control officer Melissa Miller says unfortunately dog fighting is becoming all to common. The suspect, who police believe led the dog-fighting ring, tried to escape out the back window. FANG officers arrested him one block from his home. The suspect faces weapons and drug charges and possession of animals used for fighting, which is a four-year felony. Unfortunately, all 11 dogs taken from the home are being put to sleep. This case remains under investigation.
* Magazine publisher convicted of dogfighting, cruelty March 2, 2004
GOSHEN, N.Y. -- The 34-year-old publisher of a dogfighting magazine was convicted of animal cruelty and dogfighting felonies Monday, almost a year after 18 pit bulls were taken from his property.
James Fricchione was found guilty by a judge of one dogfighting and four cruelty counts, as well as five misdemeanors. He publishes the bimonthly Sporting Dog Journal, with about 6,000 subscribers nationwide, from his home in Westtown, about 55 miles northwest of New York City. Most of the 18 pit bulls had injuries like those inflicted in dog fights, prosecutor Dave Hoovler said. Police also seized equipment used to train fighting dogs.
Fricchione, who remains free on $10,000 bail, declined to comment. He faces sentencing April 14 before Orange County Judge Nicholas DeRosa. Defense attorney Norman Shapiro said there are grounds for appeal.