OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY
WESTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
MATT J. WHITWORTH
Contact Don Ledford, Public Affairs ● (816) 426-4220 ● 400 East Ninth Street, Room 5510 ● Kansas City, MO 64106
JULY 8, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SEVEN DEFENDANTS FROM THREE STATES
INDICTED FOR DOG FIGHTING
INVESTIGATION ALSO RESULTED IN CHARGES
IN THREE OTHER DISTRICTS
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Matt J. Whitworth, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced today that seven defendants from Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska have been indicted by a federal grand jury for participating in a conspiracy to promote and participate in dog fights. This indictment is part of a multi-state investigation that also resulted in 19 additional defendants being charged in separate cases in three other districts.
“Dog fighting inflicts serious injuries and death upon dogs that are bred and trained to be dangerously aggressive,” Whitworth said. “Like many dog owners, I am appalled that such a cruel and inhumane activity occurs in our state. We will vigorously prosecute those who illegally practice this so-called sport.”
Rick P. Hihath, 55, of St. Joseph, Mo., Cris E. Bottcher, 48, of Gilman City, Mo., Julio Reyes, 28, of Tecumseh, Neb., Jill D. Makstaller, 43, of Perry, Iowa, Zachary R. Connelly, 32, of Ogden, Iowa, Kevin P. Tasler, 51, of Jefferson, Iowa, and Ryan J. Tasler, 42, of Woodward, Iowa, were charged in a five-count indictment returned under seal by a federal grand jury in Kansas City on June 23, 2009. That indictment was unsealed and made public today following the arrests of several defendants.
During the arrests and execution of search warrants, officers from multiple federal and state law enforcement agencies seized 53 dogs in early morning raids on several locations involved in dog fighting ventures.
In addition to the indictment unsealed today in the Western District of Missouri, 19 defendants were also charged in separate cases arising from the same investigation in three other districts; those charges remain under seal but are expected to be made public today. In total, more than 350 dogs – primarily pit bull terriers – were seized in a series of coordinated raids this morning.
The federal indictment returned in the Western District of Missouri alleges that, from Jan. 15 to May 8, 2009, each of the defendants participated in a conspiracy to travel across state lines to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture and to aid in illegal gambling and bookmaking activities.
Hihath works for a state school for the handicapped. Bottcher is a registered nurse employed at Harrison County Community Hospital in Bethany, Mo. Ryan Tasler is employed by the Madrid Community School District.
According to the indictment, the defendants acquired, bred, and trained pit bull dogs for the purpose of entering them in animal fighting ventures. The indictment alleges that the defendants denied the dogs adequate and humane medical treatment of wounds and injuries suffered as a result of the dog fights. The defendants routinely and inhumanely destroyed dogs that became severely injured as a result of a fight, the indictment says, by shooting the dogs in the head, then throwing the carcasses into the river or burning them in a barrel.
In addition to the conspiracy, the indictment charges both Hihath and Bottcher in two counts of sponsoring or exhibiting a pit bull dog in an animal fighting venture. Makstaller, Reyes and Kevin Tasler are each charged in one count of transporting animals for participation in an animal fighting venture, and Zachary Connelly and Ryan Tasler are each charged in one count of transporting animals for participation in an animal fighting venture.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office also filed motions seeking to take legal ownership of the dogs and place the animals in the care and custody of the Humane Society. Under federal law, the government can seek the forfeit of any animals engaged in an animal fighting venture. Additionally, the U.S. Attorney is seeking a court order requiring the defendants to reimburse the Humane Society for all costs incurred for care of the animals while the animals are in the custody of the Humane Society.
The federal indictment cites three dog fights that were allegedly held at Bottcher’s farm homestead in Gilman City, in which the defendants participated.
On Feb. 28, 2009, two dog fights allegedly occurred. Hihath fought a dog named “Black Sheep” and Bottcher fought a dog named “Pope Joe” for the match fight. According to the indictment, Hihath and Bottcher constructed the fighting pit for the dog fights. Hihath was the referee for the match, the indictment says, when Bottcher handled the dog named “Pope Joe,” and also held the bet monies for that fight. Both Hihath and Bottcher allegedly placed bets on that match fight. Three dog fighters from central Iowa allegedly attended the fight – Kevin Tasler, Ryan Tasler and Connelly. Ryan Tasler was the spongeman – providing sponges to the dogs’ handlers to wipe blood off their dogs or cool them down during the fights.
On April 25, 2009, 12 roll fights allegedly occurred. (Rolls are shorter fights between two dogs that are used by dog fighters as a means of building confidence and exposing their prospective fighting dog to a variety of fighting styles. They are viewed as a way to test younger fighting prospects, and usually don’t involve any betting.) According to the indictment, Bottcher facilitated those dog fights in an outbuilding garage on the homestead. Hihath allegedly promoted this dog fighting event and had at least two dogs fight in the event. Several dog fighters from Iowa attended and participated in the fight, the indictment says, including Kevin Tasler and Makstaller. Reyes, a dog fighter from Nebraska, also attended the fights and transported two dogs to participate in the fights, according to the indictment. Hihath allegedly handled a dog in five of the 12 rolls, while Bottcher allegedly handled a dog in four of the rolls. At the end of the fight, the indictment says, Bottcher used a .22-caliber rifle to shoot and kill two dogs who fought in roll fights that night but did not perform to the handler’s/owner’s expectations. Bottcher allegedly shot each animal twice in the head, then placed the carcasses in plastic containers outside of the garage.
On May 8, 2009, two match dog fights allegedly occurred. According to the indictment, Bottcher facilitated the fights in an outbuilding garage and was the handler for his dog, “Pope Joe,” for the first fight of the night. Hihath allegedly promoted the fights, handled the bet monies for the fights, and was the referee for the second fight. Bottcher and Hihath allegedly constructed the pit for the dog fight. Thirteen dogs were observed in the fenced yard of Bottcher’s homestead and unknown number of dogs were seen behind a board fence in Bottcher’s dog yard. Four dog fighters from Iowa – Connelly, Ryan Tasler, Kevin Tasler and Makstaller – attended the fights, according to the indictment. Connelly allegedly handled his dog, “Tommy,” in the second fight of the night. Makstaller was the referee for the first fight, the indictment says, and the timekeeper for the second fight. Tasler was the timekeeper and spongeman for the first fight, according to the indictment. Reyes allegedly brought his dog from Nebraska to the fights and was the spongeman for the second fight. Bottcher, Hihath, Ryan Tasler, Kevin Tasler, Reyes, Connelly, and Makstaller allegedly wagered bets that night.
Under federal statutes, each of the five counts of the indictment carries a maximum penalty, upon conviction, of five years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $250,000.
Whitworth cautioned that the charges contained in this indictment are simply accusations, and not evidence of guilt. Evidence supporting the charges must be presented to a federal trial jury, whose duty is to determine guilt or innocence.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jane Pansing Brown and Curt Bohling. It was investigated by the Office of Inspector General-Investigations, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
This news release, as well as additional information about the office of the United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, is available on-line at