Federal prosecutors have charged two Kansas City, Kan., men with participating in a three-state Midwest dogfighting ring that was broken up Saturday at a fight in Texas.
Authorities seized 71 dogs, most of them pit bulls, over the weekend in Kansas, Missouri and Texas, said Barry Grissom, the U.S. attorney for Kansas.
Among the sites searched were a Kansas City, Kan., residence — where some dogs allegedly were trained using treadmills and caged chickens — and a northern Missouri farm owned by one of the suspects , authorities said.
Pete Davis Jr., 38, and Melvin L. Robinson, 41, are charged in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., with transporting dogs in interstate commerce to participate in animal fighting. If convicted, each man faces up to five years in federal prison.
The two men owned as many as 60 dogs that were kept mainly at the farm in Harrison County, Mo., where fights were held on Sundays, according to court documents unsealed Monday .
Medical teams from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are caring for the seized dogs and six rescued chickens , authorities said Monday. Staff from Wayside Waifs in Kansas City and Great Plains ASPCA in Merriam are helping with operations to care for the animals in a separate temporary shelter, ASPCA officials said. The dogs are not currently available for adoption.
“Dogfighting is not a sport. It is a crime,” Grissom said at a Monday afternoon news conference .
The charges and animal rescues were the result of a five-month investigation by federal, state and local law enforcement officers and the ASPCA, Grissom said. He said that partnership showed that authorities take the crime very seriously.
“We hope this will send a message,” Grissom said. “This kind of behavior has to stop.”
According to the allegations, Robinson used treadmills and weights to train the dogs, which sometimes killed chickens in the exercises. A plywood box kept the dogs on the treadmills, and Robinson allegedly would place a harnesses on the dogs and chain the harnesses to the treadmills for hours at a time.
Davis, Robinson and a third person allegedly removed two dead dogs from the farm this month and disposed of them in Kansas.
Witnesses told investigators that Robinson and Davis discussed traveling to Texas in late March for a large “dog show,” which is code for dogfight, federal investigators said.
Robinson and Davis also talked about plans to wager $20,000 to $30,000 on the fights, according to the documents.
On Friday, law enforcement officers followed the pair and several other people traveling in a three-vehicle convoy through Oklahoma and into Texas to a location near Tyler. At Monday’s news conference, authorities said about 30 people were attending the fight Saturday night in a wooded area when police moved in.
One of the Kansas City, Kan., men was arrested there, but authorities did not say which one. The other man turned himself in to authorities in Kansas.
Many people attending the fight fled when police arrived. “Like cockroaches when the lights are turned on,” Grissom said.
A similar joint investigation in 2009 that centered on northwest Missouri broke the largest U.S. dogfighting ring, involving more than 400 dogs. Though the case announced Monday was not as large, it still was a significant operation, said Tim Rickey, the vice president of the ASPCA’s field investigations and response team.
Rickey said the animals’ health is being assessed while they are held as evidence in the criminal cases. The goal is to rehabilitate as many of the dogs as possible and prepare them for adoption, he said.
“In our eyes,these dogs have suffered tremendously as a result of this for-profit crime,” he said. “We want to give these dogs a second chance.”
Despite the disruption of two major operations in the area since 2009, dogfighting remains prevalent, Rickey said.
“My goal — our goal — is to put an end to this brutal and barbaric industry,” he said.