United States Attorneys Office for the Middle District of Alabama Commemorates National Police Week 2023
MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA – A seventh and final Verbena, Alabama, resident was sentenced yesterday for violating the Animal Welfare Act’s prohibition against animal fighting ventures in connection with an expansive cockfighting operation. This marks the end of a series of sentencings in which the Court held four Alabama residents accountable for their roles in operating a large-scale cockfighting arena (cockfighting pit) and massive fighting-bird breeding businesses, and for conspiring to violate the Animal Welfare Act and to operate an illegal gambling business. The Court determined that the illegal conduct involved animal fighting on an “exceptional scale” and imposed sentences which reflect the unusual cruelty of a business model that relies on the death or injury of thousands of birds for entertainment and profit.
The court issued the following sentences for four defendants who pleaded guilty to multiple felonies on August 5:
Three other residents of Verbena, Alabama, who are also members of the Easterling family, pleaded guilty on June 3 to conspiring to violate the Animal Welfare Act or to a substantive violation of the Act. On Oct.13, the following individuals were sentenced:
“These sentences demonstrate the importance of enforcing the Animal Welfare Act to ensure the humane treatment of animals and prohibit cruel practices such as cockfighting,” said United States Attorney Sandra Stewart for the Middle District of Alabama.
“As these sentences vividly show, the Department of Justice will continue to hold accountable those who encourage and profit from forcing animals to fight each other for human entertainment,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General (USDA-OIG) actively investigates allegations of animal abuse and any associated gambling activities,” said Special Agent in Charge Jason Williams of the USDA-OIG. “This agency has made animal fighting a high priority to demonstrate that these blatant acts of cruelty to animals will not be tolerated. We would like to thank the Justice Department for aggressively prosecuting perpetrators of animal fighting and our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners for assisting in enforcing these federal statutes.”
According to court documents and information in the public record, from at least January 2018 through June 11, 2021, illegal cockfighting events were held at the cockfighting pit, which consisted of an arena with stadium-style seating for approximately 150 people which faced several cockfighting pits and several nearby outbuildings including a merchandise stand. The illegal derbies involved a series of cockfights in which at least two or more roosters fought each other, each with a sharp blade attached to its leg. These fights were conducted for the purpose of sport, wagering, and entertainment. Participants were charged expensive fees to enter their birds in the derbies – such as $1,500 to fight seven roosters – and told what weapons to strap to the roosters’ legs, such as short knives, long knives, or spurs. Consistent with his plea agreement, William Colon Easterling dismantled and destroyed the entire cockfighting arena and associated outbuildings.
Near the cockfighting pit, members of the Easterling family ran two large fighting-bird breeding businesses known as Swift Creek Gamefarm and L&L Gamefarm at which thousands of birds were bred and sold to be used in fights between two or more birds for the purposes of sport, wagering, or entertainment.
Combined, the seven convicted members of the Easterling family helped run one of the largest cockfighting enterprises in the country. With the help of six of his family members, Jim Easterling owned and operated the cockfighting pit for many years, even enlisting his granddaughter, Amber Easterling, to sell weapons used to kill birds in cockfights at the merchandise stand. Brent Easterling was one of the most widely known fighting-bird breeders in the country, running L&L Gamefarm with his wife Kassi Easterling and charging $1,500 for three chickens because they were birds of select fighting pedigrees. Brent Easterling also promoted the cockfights at his father’s, Jim, cockfighting pit. Tyler Easterling helped his father, Billy Easterling, operate a vast fighting-bird breeding business known as Swift Creek Gamefarm where they employed their in-law, Junior Williams, and others to help maintain and ship fighting birds. Tyler Easterling also promoted several cockfights at his grandfather’s, Jim, cockfighting pit.
The USDA-OIG and Homeland Security Investigations investigated the case with assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office in South Carolina provided invaluable assistance to federal law enforcement officers.
Trial Attorney Leigh Rendé and Senior Trial Attorney Gary Donner of the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section and First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Ross for the Middle District of Alabama prosecuted the case.