Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney’s Office Seek Forfeiture of Six Dogs Seized in Connection with Interstate Dog Fighting Venture
The United States filed a civil forfeiture complaint seeking the possession of six pit bull-type dogs which were allegedly involved in an interstate dog fighting venture in violation of the federal Animal Welfare Act, announced Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Environment and Natural Resources Division and U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman for the District of New Jersey.
According to the complaint filed yesterday in Newark, New Jersey, federal court:
The six pit bull-type dogs were seized on June 1, from a private residence in Westville, New Jersey, pursuant to a federal search warrant. The residence was owned by the family of Justin Love, 36, of Glassboro, New Jersey, who was arrested the same day and charged by criminal complaint with violating the Animal Welfare Act.
The condition of a majority of the dogs, including scarring and aggression towards other dogs, was consistent with dog fighting and related training. For example, one of the female dogs, subsequently identified as “Momba,” had severe scarring and showed signs of other serious injuries consistent with her participation in dog fights. Her physical condition also indicated that she was used for breeding, which was further corroborated by intercepted phone conversations allegedly involving Love.
Other indications of unlawful dog fighting were found on the Westville property, including paraphernalia such as flirt poles, which are used to condition a dog and foster natural hunting instincts, and a spring pole, which is used to strengthen a dog’s neck and jaw muscles.
Injectable medication, syringes, sterile gel, and topical and oral antibiotics were also found. Dog fighters often attempt to treat their dogs themselves rather than seek veterinary attention, which might raise suspicion regarding the cause of injuries.
Five of the six dogs were found in pens located in the yard. The pens were made of metal fencing and separated by thick metal slats, and some of the dogs were secured inside the pens with chains. The sixth dog was confined in an elevated cage with a wire fence bottom.
Dog fighting is a violent contest in which two dogs—bred and conditioned for fighting—are released by their owners or handlers in a controlled environment to attack each other and fight for purposes of entertainment and gambling. Fights average one to two hours in length and end when one dog withdraws, when a handler “picks up” his dog and forfeits the match, or when one or both dogs die. Persons engaged in dog fighting exclusively use pit bull-type dogs due to their short coat, compact muscular build, and the aggressive temperament that some exhibit toward other dogs.
The federal Animal Welfare Act makes it a felony punishable by up to five years in prison to fight dogs or to possess, train, sell, buy, deliver, receive, or transport them for that purpose. The statute further authorizes the seizure and forfeiture of animals involved in dog fighting. Once the dogs are forfeited or surrendered to federal authorities, they can be evaluated and placed for adoption.
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 victories.
Operation Grand Champion is a continuing investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of the Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge William G. Squires; Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Terence S. Opiola; and the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Timothy Gallagher, in coordination with the Department of Justice.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Devlin and Barbara Ward, Acting Chief of the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section of the District of New Jersey and the Justice Department’s Wildlife and Marine Resources Section Trial Attorneys Mary Hollingsworth and Assistant Section Chief Meredith Flax.
The charges and allegations against Love are merely accusations and he is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Civil forfeiture cases are “in rem” proceedings—or proceedings against things. In this case, the complaint is brought against the six dogs, not its owner or any other person.
The Humane Society of the Unites States is assisting with the care of the dogs seized by federal law enforcement.