On Saturday night, state police, investigators from the New York Attorney General’s Office, and the Department of Homeland Security brought an end to a popular attraction held at an abandoned storefront in Queens: a cockfighting ring, where roosters raised in upstate New York and held at a pet store in Brooklyn were made to fight to the death. Really? We can’t find anything better to do with our weekends, cockfighting spectators?
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced this weekend that investigators from his office’s New York State Organized Crime Task Force had arrested and charged eight people in the alleged cockfighting ring, in an investigation they dubbed “Operation Angry Birds.” During the Saturday night raid, according to the New York Times , officers watched as people paid $40 each and filed into the basement of a vacant storefront at 74-26 Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven. The roosters waiting to fight were held in sacks on the basement wall; many of the 65 birds rescued, per the NYT, had “their natural spurs clipped off and with sharper metal spurs attached to their bodies.”
The American Society for the Cruelty of Prevention to Animals (ASPCA) took custody of those birds and set up a temporary shelter for them. Five men were arrested on charges of conspiracy and animal fighting (unless you’re at a rodeo, New York state law very strictly prohibits “any fight between cocks or other birds, or between dogs, bulls, bears or any other animals.”) Those men have been identified as Elisandy Gonzales, Orlando Bautista, Noel Castillo, Francisco Suriel and Edward Medina.
Meanwhile, investigators also arrested Jeremias Nieves, the 74-year-old owner of Pets NV, a pet store in Bushwick, after they found 50 more roosters in cages in his basement. Nieves reportedly admitted to selling the birds, who the AG’s office reported were found “in poor condition,” but insisted he didn’t fight them; investigators believe he brought the birds to the fights in Woodhaven. A press release from the AG’s office said that a number of cockfighting supplies were found in the basement near the birds, including “artificial spurs, candle wax, medical adhesive tape, syringes used to inject performance enhancing drugs to strengthen the roosters’ fighting ability.”
But roosters have to come from somewhere, and on Sunday, investigators also raided a farm in upstate New York, in the tiny town of Plattekill, where the ASPCA took custody of around 3,000 more live birds. The farm manager, Manuel Cruz, and another worker, Jesus Cruz, were arrested during that raid.
The spectators at the Queens fight do not appear to have been charged; the NYT reports that while all of them were taken into custody, only those withoutstanding warrants were held. That’s despite a 2011 law, lauded by the Humane Society, that made being a spectator at an animal fight a misdemeanor offense, punishable by up to three months in prison and a $500 fine.
The full press release from the Attorney General’s office announcing the bust is on the following page.
A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES LARGEST COCKFIGHTING BUST IN STATE HISTORY
Posted February 9th, 2014
“Operation Angry Birds” takedown spanning three counties, results in 70 people taken into custody, nine felony arrests and as many as 3,000 birds found; ASPCA assists in removal and sheltering of animals
RELEASE FROM ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE
NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced tonight that his Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF) executed the largest cockfighting takedown in New York State history. This weekend’s multi-faceted takedown represents the largest known rescue of fighting roosters in New York’s history, and among the largest in United States history. This is the first known investigation in which the crime of Prohibition of Animal Fighting was enforced in three separate New York counties simultaneously, in Queens, Kings and Ulster counties. While 70 people initially detained at a cockfighting event, nine felony arrests were made, and as many as 3,000 birds, as well as cockfighting-related contraband, were rescued in the three-county-wide bust.
“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,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “My office, along with our partners in law enforcement and animal welfare, are committed to ending this vicious blood sport. This investigation – one of the largest in U.S. history – illustrates the prevalence of cockfighting in America, its brutal nature and the link to other illegal activities. My office will keep working to hold these individuals accountable, and put an end to illegal cockfighting.”
The Attorney General’s OCTF unit was assisted with the “Operation Angry Birds” investigation by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA®), which offered its expertise in evidence collection as well as removal and sheltering of the seized animals, the Ulster County Sheriff’s office, which provided physical surveillance, and the Department of Homeland Security (HSI), which provided local aerial surveillance. The New York State Police also assisted with the raids.
“No animal should be forced to fight to the death for human entertainment and profit, and we are proud to play a leading role in removing and caring for these victimized birds, as well as offering expert legal assistance in this case,” said ASPCA President and CEO Matthew Bershadker. “This collaborative investigation, intervention and enforcement is a giant step toward our shared goal of wiping out cockfighting in America.”
On Saturday night into Sunday morning, OCTF, with backup from the New York State Police and the Homeland Security Investigation branch of HSI, raided a cockfighting event at 74-26 Jamaica Avenue in Queens. The 70-person event, including bettors and spectators, was busted up. Six of those people, who had brought and fought birds, were charged with felony Prohibition of Animal Fighting. The others were released. The ASPCA took control of 65 fighting birds. The ring had been operating bimonthly events there since at least May, when OCTF first began monitoring cockfighting at this location.
At the same time, OCTF investigators executed a search warrant upon Pet NV, a pet shop owned by Jeremias Nieves, 74, and located at 71 Central Avenue in Brooklyn. Fifty fighting birds were rescued from a basement beneath the pet shop. Nieves was arrested and charged with Prohibition of Animal Fighting. The roosters, found in poor condition, had been kept inside individual metal cages and exhibited all the physical hallmarks of having been bred, trained, and altered for fighting. Cockfighting contraband and implements were found within the basement, including artificial spurs, candle wax, medical adhesive tape, syringes used to inject performance-enhancing drugs to strengthen the roosters’ fighting ability and other cockfighting implements and paraphernalia.
Sunday morning, OCTF investigators, with the help of the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office, State Police and other local law enforcement, raided a 90-acre farm at 230 Plattekill Ardonia Road, in Plattekill. The ASPCA® recovered as many as 3,000 birds there. The farm was previously registered as a commercial farm under the name CMC Plattikil, Inc., but has been unregistered since 2010. The farm had operated for years under the guise of a live poultry farm, and its owners hid thousands of makeshift cages within the center of the property to avoid detection by neighbors and law enforcement. Farm manager Manuel Cruz, 60, and Jesus Cruz, 37, a farm hand, were arrested and arraigned, and are expected back in Plattekill Town Court tomorrow.
Roosters and chickens were found to be boarded in deplorable conditions. The owners charged rent to board, feed, and care for roosters that were bred and trained for fighting, with blood sport enthusiasts and rooster owners from NYC, Long Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts boarding, training and sometimes fighting their roosters there. For years, roosters bred and trained at this farm were transported to the cockfighting event raided the night before in Queens County and to the Brooklyn pet shop that was raided as well.
These roosters were bred, trained, plied with performance-enhancing drugs, had razor-sharp gaffs attached in place of their natural spurs and were locked in a small pen to be wagered upon. The ASPCA®’s Field Investigations and Response team was on hand to help remove the animals, and identify and document forensic evidence. The ASPCA® established a temporary shelter at an undisclosed location to house and care for the animals.
At these events, spectators were charged an admission fee and an additional fee for a seat within the secret basement location that housed the all-night fights. Alcohol was sold without a permit, and drugs were used openly. This ring had security personnel who frisked attendees, counter-surveillance within the neighborhood, security cameras and a paid referee. Owners and spectators placed bets on the outcomes of the fights, with individual wagers reaching $10,000. These fights, which began in the evening and lasted into the early morning hours, pitted dozens of roosters against one another to fight to the death.
Cockfighting is a crime in all 50 states. In New York, cockfighting and possession of a fighting bird at a cockfighting location are felonies, and each charge carries a maximum penalty of four years in jail and a fine of $25,000. Paying to attend one of these events is a misdemeanor and carries a possible sentence of up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. These fights can be dangerous for entire communities, as they are often linked to weapons, drugs, gambling and other crimes, and they encourage participants to engage in other acts of animal cruelty and to disregard animal suffering. Disturbingly, children are often present during cockfights. This promotes insensitivity toward animal suffering and enthusiasm for violence.
In May 2013, the Attorney General announced his Animal Protection Initiative, which included the goal of shutting down underground animal fighting rings across the state. New Yorkers seeking to give anonymous tips about potential animal fighting rings or report animal abuse should call 1-866-697-3444 and alert their local authorities. For more information on Attorney General Schneiderman’s Animal Protection Initiative, visit www.ag.ny.gov/animals.
The Attorney General thanks the ASPCA®, the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office, the New York State Police and HSI.
This case was investigated by OCTF Senior Investigator Jose Rojas under the supervision of Deputy Chief Christopher Vasta and Chief Dominick Zarrella. The case is being prosecuted by OCTF Assistant Deputy Attorney General Diego Hernandez, under the supervision of OCTF Deputy Attorney General Peri Alyse Kadanoff and Executive Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice Kelly Donovan.