New York’s Largest Cockfighting Ring Busted in ‘Operation Angry Birds’
This weekend authorities and rescuers joined forces to participate in what’s believed to be the largest cockfighting bust in New York state’s history and one of the largest ever in the U.S.
The take down was part of Operation Angry Birds, which was a combined effort by New York’s Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF), the Ulster County Sheriff’s office, the Department of Homeland Security (HSI), the New York State Police and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
On Saturday, February 8, 65 birds found in poor condition were rescued and six people were arrested after authorities disrupted a cockfight in Woodhaven, Queens. At the same time, a search warrant was being executed at Pet NV, a Brooklyn pet store, that resulted in the seizure of 50 roosters and other small animals. According to the ASPCA, cockfighting paraphernalia — including artificial spurs, candle wax, medical adhesive tape and syringes used to inject performance enhancing drugs to strengthen the roosters’ fighting ability — was discovered at both locations.
The roosters being used in these events would have otherwise been left to violently fight to the death for the pleasure of onlookers who gambled on their lives.
“The brutality that’s associated with this is shocking,” Matthew E. Bershadker, the ASPCA’s president, told the New York Times. “If you have a soul, if you have a conscience, you know very quickly that this is a vile, vile betrayal of what’s right. These animals suffer horrifically.”
The next day, a raid involving multiple agencies resulted in the rescue of more than 3,000 birds who had been bred, trained to fight and drugged from a 90-acre farm in Platteville that had been operating under the cover of a poultry farm for years. According to a statement, the owners of the farm had charged rent to board, feed and care for the roosters, who were owned by people from surrounding states who trained and fought roosters on the property, or moved them to the events held at the places that were raided the day before.
Cockfighting is illegal 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, according to a statement. In all, the operation resulted in 70 people being taken into custody and nine felony arrests.
Under the current animal fighting law, it’s a felony to train animals to fight, move them across state lines to fight, and hold fights, but spectators aren’t addressed. In good news for animals who are victims of these violent bloodsports, a provision in the Farm Bill that was just passed has closed a loophole in the current laws by making it a crime to attend a fight that can result in up to one year in prison, or three for bringing a minor along.
Animal advocates hope this provision will help crack down on the people who help fuel these barbaric underground enterprises and perpetuate other illegal activity by holding everyone involved accountable, as opposed to only the people who are running the show.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman vowed in a statement that his “office will keep working to hold these individuals accountable, and put an end to illegal cockfighting.” Meanwhile, the birds who were saved are being housed and cared for at an undisclosed location by the ASPCA.
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