“Trainer to the Trainers” Pleads Guilty as a Result of Multi-State Dog Fighting, Drug Trafficking Investigation
MACON, Ga. – A well-known dog-fighting trainer and breeder has pleaded guilty to a federal animal fighting charge as the result of an ongoing investigation into a significant multi-state dog fighting and drug trafficking ring.
Vernon Vegas, 49, of Suwanee, Georgia, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to participate in an animal fighting venture before U.S. District Judge Tilman E. “Tripp” Self, III on Tuesday, Sept. 14. Vegas faces a maximum five years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release and a maximum $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for December 7, 2021.
“Vernon Vegas was the trainer to the trainers—he taught individuals about the bloody and brutal business of dog-fighting and worked to ensure it was thriving,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Peter D. Leary. “Dog fighting ventures are magnets for a multitude of dangerous criminal activity. Our office and law enforcement will not tolerate animal fighting or the crimes surrounding it; we will seek federal prosecution when warranted.”
“This case illustrates the connection between the underworld of drugs, organized crime and dog-fighting,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Vernon Vegas profited from these dogs’ pain and will rightly be held to account.”
According to court documents, law enforcement investigated a criminal organization involved in both cocaine distribution and organized dog fighting based out of Roberta, Georgia, which extended into North Georgia, Florida and Alabama from May 2019 until February 2020. In February 2020, law enforcement executed 15 residential search warrants and seized more than 150 dogs that were being used for organized dog fighting.
Between October 1996 and February 2020, Vegas, the owner of Cane Valley Kennels, bred, trained, sold and transported dogs for the purpose of the dog fighting, including Grand Champion “Baby Gracie,” Champion “Son of Sam 2XBis,” Champion “Spider,” Champion “Bucky Mike,” Champion “Bear,” Champion “Kocky Mike,” Champion “Fantasmin,” Champion “Julie the Great,” and one-time winner, “Brenda.” As part of his business, Vegas designed and offered a seven-week “keep” where he trained dogs for animal fighting ventures, prepared on-line pedigrees for the fighting dogs bred and trained at Cane Valley Kennels, provided advice to his co-conspirators on how to train dogs for purposes of engaging in animal fighting ventures, and kept a multitude of training and conditioning equipment including slat mills, chains, a staple gun, hanging weight scales, break sticks, flirt poles and various medicines to treat injuries or disease sustained by dogs made to fight. Between January 2017 and February 2020, Vegas attended dog fights with co-conspirators Derrick Owens and Christopher Raines at locations in the Middle District of Georgia and advised Owens on various matters related to preparing dogs for animal fighting.
The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, The United States Department of Agriculture, Office of the Inspector General (USDA-OIG), U.S. Marshals Service, The Department of Justice, Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, Crawford County Sheriff’s Office, Houston County Sheriff’s Office, Merriweather County Sheriff’s Office, Peach County Sheriff’s Office, Taylor County Sheriff’s Office, Webster County Sheriff’s Office, Byron Police Department and the Fort Valley Police Department.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Will Keyes with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia and Trial Attorney Banu Rangarajan with the Department of Justice, Environmental Crimes Section are prosecuting the case.