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NEWS RELEASE

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

www.usdoj.gov/usao/mow/index.html


OCTOBER 14, 2009

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


ST. JOSEPH MAN PLEADS GUILTY TO

DOG FIGHTING CONSPIRACY


            KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Matt J. Whitworth, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that a St. Joseph, Mo., man pleaded guilty in federal court today to participating in a conspiracy to promote and participate in dog fights.


            Rick P. Hihath, 55, of St. Joseph, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Ortrie D. Smith this morning to the charges contained in a June 23, 2009, federal indictment.


            Hihath, who works for a state school for the handicapped, admitted that he participated in a conspiracy to transport animals across state lines for an animal fighting venture. In addition to the conspiracy, Hihath also pleaded guilty to sponsoring or exhibiting an animal in an animal fighting venture.


            Hihath was the promoter and sponsor of the match fights and roll fights involving pit bull fighting dogs transported from Iowa and Nebraska to Missouri. The fights took place at the residence of co-defendant Cris E. Bottcher, 48, of Gilman City, Mo.


            Bottcher, a registered nurse employed at Harrison County Community Hospital in Bethany, Mo., pleaded guilty to the same charges on Oct. 6, 2009.


            The government is seeking to take legal ownership of Hihath’s 12 dogs (seven pit bull terriers and five American bulldogs), as well as Bottcher’s 11 pit bull terriers, all of which are in the care and custody of the Humane Society. Under federal law, the government can seek the forfeiture of any animals engaged in an animal fighting venture. Additionally, the government 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.


            In a separate case that resulted from the same multi-state investigation, Jack Ruppel, 35, of Eldon, Mo., pleaded guilty on Sept. 4, 2009 to his role in a conspiracy to transport animals across state lines for an animal fighting venture and to use the mail to promote and advertise the venture. Ruppel also pleaded guilty to selling an animal for participation in an animal fighting venture.


            Beginning sometime before 2008, Ruppel, who operated Ozark Hillbillies Kennel, became involved in breeding, raising, training and selling dogs for participation in animal fighting ventures. Through his dog kennel operation, Ruppel bred, trained, conditioned and developed pit bull terriers both for participation in animal fighting ventures and to represent himself in animal fighting ventures and dog fighting competitions.


            Ruppel specifically admitted that he attended or participated in 10 dog fights between July 19, 2008, and April 18, 2009, including one dog fight at his residence, and that he wagered money on some dog fights. Ruppel admitted that he killed some of his dogs who would not fight, or had not fought well enough to meet expectations.


            The government is also seeking to take legal ownership of Ruppel’s 46 dogs (45 pit bull terriers and one mastiff).


            Under federal statutes, each of the defendants is subject to a sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $500,000 and an order of restitution. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.


            This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane Pansing Brown. 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.

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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

www.usdoj.gov/usao/mow/index.html