defendants pleaded guilty today and yesterday to federal charges for
their roles in an inter-state dog fighting network spanning from New
Mexico to New Jersey, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General
Jeffrey H. Wood of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural
Resources Division, and Acting United States Attorney for the District
of New Jersey William E. Fitzpatrick. A fifth defendant pleaded guilty
in June. U.S. District Judge Mary L. Cooper in Trenton accepted the
- Anthony “Monte” Gaines, 36, of Vineland, New
Jersey, a/k/a “Whiteboy,” pleaded guilty yesterday to two felony counts
of conspiracy to buy, sell, receive, transport, deliver, and possess
dogs intended for use in an animal fighting venture, and one felony
count of possessing a dog intended for use in an animal fighting
- Lydell Harris, 32, of Vineland, New Jersey, a/k/a “Sinn,” pleaded
guilty yesterday to one felony count of conspiracy to sponsor or exhibit
a dog in an animal fighting venture, and one felony count of possessing
a dog intended for use in an animal fighting venture.
- Frank Nichols, 40, of Millville, New Jersey, pleaded guilty today
to one felony count of conspiracy to transport, deliver and receive dogs
intended for use in an animal fighting venture, and one felony count of
possessing a stolen firearm subsequent to a felony conviction.
- Pedro Cuellar, 47, of Willow Springs, Illinois, pleaded guilty
today to one felony count of conspiracy to transport, deliver, and
receive dogs intended for use in an animal fighting venture.
- Mario Atkinson, 42, of Asbury Park, New Jersey, pleaded guilty on
June 15, 2017 before Judge Anne E. Thompson in U.S. District Court in
Trenton to one count of sponsoring or exhibiting a dog in an animal
fighting venture, and one count of possessing a dog intended for use in
an animal fighting venture.
Nichols and Harris pleaded guilty to indictments. Gaines,
Cuellar, and Atkinson were charged with Bills of Information. Charges
remain pending against four defendants.
According to court documents filed in connection with the cases, from
October 2015 through June 1, 2016, the pleading defendants and their
co-defendants and associates fought dogs – including to the death – and
trafficked in dogs with other dog fighters in Indiana, Illinois, New
Mexico, and elsewhere so that those dogs could be used in dog fights.
They also maintained fighting dogs and dog fighting equipment such as
dog treadmills, intravenous drug bags and lines, “breeding stands” used
to immobilize female dogs, and chains weighing up to several pounds per
linear foot. Agents found canine blood on the floor, walls, and ceiling
of the basement of one defendant’s residence, indicating that the area
was likely used as a dog fighting pit. Among other acts involved in the
charges, one of the pleading defendants admitted that his dog died in
his car on the way home after losing a dog fight.
“Justice is being delivered in these cases,” said Acting Assistant
Attorney General Wood. “Ending animal fighting ventures and other
inhumane practices depends upon the hard work of investigators and
lawyers like those who brought these cases, and will also require
continued partnership with federal, state, and local law enforcement
agencies. Our Division is proud to be a leader in this worthy cause. We
also applaud the work of the Humane Society in partnering with us to
provide hope of recovery for the abused animals."
“The criminal conduct speaks to the cruel conditions in which these
animals live,” Acting U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick said. “This office,
along with our law enforcement partners and the Humane Society, is
working to end this illegal activity and punish those who abuse animals
for their own enjoyment.”
“The provisions of the Animal Welfare Act were designed to protect
animals from being used in illegal fighting ventures, which often entail
other forms of criminal activity involving drugs, firearms and
gambling,” said Special Agent-in-Charge Bethanne M. Dinkins of the U.S.
Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General. “Together with
the Department of Justice, animal fighting is an investigative priority
for USDA-OIG, and we will work with our law enforcement partners to
investigate and assist in the criminal prosecution of those who
participate in animal fighting ventures.”
This case is part of Operation Grand Champion, a coordinated effort
across numerous federal judicial districts to combat organized dog
fighting. The phrase “Grand Champion” is used by dog fighters to refer
to a dog with more than five dog fighting “victories.” To date, 98 dogs
have been rescued as part of Operation Grand Champion, and either
surrendered or forfeited to the government. The Humane Society of the
United States assisted with the care of the dogs seized by federal law
enforcement. The government is represented by Trial Attorney Ethan Eddy
of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section, and Assistant
U.S. Attorney Kathleen O’Leary. The case is being investigated by the
U.S. Department of Agriculture – Office of Inspector General, the U.S.
Department of Homeland Security – Homeland Security Investigations, and
the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Each animal fighting charge carries a maximum sentence of five years
in prison and a $250,000 fine. The weapons charge against defendant
Nichols carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison and a $250,000
fine. The investigation is ongoing.