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FEBRUARY 22, 2010






            KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Beth Phillips, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced that a St. Joseph, Mo., man was sentenced in federal court today for participating in a conspiracy to promote and participate in dog fights.

            “Dog fighting is cruel and inhumane,” Phillips said, “which is why we sought the maximum prison sentence provided under the federal sentencing guidelines. Today’s sentence reflects the severity of this crime and our community’s intolerance of such appalling behavior.

            Rick P. Hihath, 56, of St. Joseph, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Ortrie D. Smith this morning to 16 months in federal prison without parole. Following his prison term, Hihath must serve three years of supervised release, during which he is prohibited from owning or possessing any dogs and must serve 100 hours of community service. Hihath will surrender to begin serving his prison sentence on April 5, 2010.

            This case was part of a multi-state investigation that resulted in additional defendants being charged in separate cases in three other districts and the federal seizure of hundreds of dogs during a series of coordinated raids on July 8, 2009.

            Hihath, formerly a teacher at a state school for handicapped children, pleaded guilty on Oct. 14, 2009, to his role 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, 49, of Gilman City, Mo.

            Bottcher, a registered nurse employed at Harrison County Community Hospital in Bethany, Mo., pleaded guilty to the same charges and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 2, 2010.

            Co-defendants Kevin P. Tasler, 52, of Jefferson, Iowa, Ryan J. Tasler, 42, of Woodward, Iowa, Jill D. Makstaller, 32, and her husband, Andrew D. Makstaller, 34, of Perry, Iowa, and Julio Reyes, 30, of Tecumseh, Neb., have also pleaded guilty to transporting pit bull dogs across states lines into Missouri to participate in dog fights at Bottcher’s residence.

            The government is seeking to take legal ownership of Hihath’s 12 dogs (seven pit bull terriers and five American bulldogs), as well as the Makstallers’ 23 pit bulls, Bottcher’s 11 pit bulls, Ryan Tasler’s five pit bulls, and Kevin Tasler’s two pit bulls, 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).

            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.


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