Four Defendants Sentenced to Federal Prison Terms in Multi-State Dog Fighting Prosecution
New Jersey and Chicago-Area Defendants Convicted as Part of Operation Grand Champion
TRENTON, N.J. – Four men have been sentenced to federal prison terms for their respective roles in an interstate dog fighting network that extended from New Jersey to New Mexico and Indiana, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito, District of New Jersey, and Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, announced today.
The four defendants, arrested and charged as part of a coordinated effort across numerous federal judicial districts to combat organized dog fighting, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Mary L. Cooper in Trenton federal court:
- Anthony “Monte” Gaines, 37, of Vineland, New Jersey, was sentenced March 5, 2018, to serve 42 months in prison. He previously pleaded guilty to two felony counts of conspiracy to buy, sell, receive, transport, deliver, and possess dogs intended for use in an animal fighting venture, and one felony count of possessing a dog intended for use in an animal fighting venture.
- Frank Nichols, 40, of Millville, New Jersey, was sentenced March 9, 2018, to serve 57 months in prison. He previously pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to transport, deliver and receive dogs intended for use in an animal fighting venture, and one felony count of possessing a stolen firearm subsequent to a felony conviction.
- Lydell Harris, 32, of Vineland, New Jersey, a/k/a “Sinn,” was sentenced today to serve 17 months in prison. He previously pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to sponsor or exhibit a dog in an animal fighting venture, and one felony count of possessing a dog intended for use in an animal fighting venture.
- Pedro Cuellar, 47, of Willow Springs, Illinois, was sentenced today to serve 12 months in prison. He had pleaded guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to transport, deliver, and receive dogs intended for use in an animal fighting venture.
A fifth co-defendant, Mario Atkinson, 42, of Asbury Park, New Jersey, has also pleaded guilty and is scheduled to be sentenced April 18, 2018. The court is expected to set a trial date for four additional defendants for some time this summer. Judge Anne E. Thompson sentenced Gaines and Judge Peter G. Sheridan sentenced Harris, Nichols and Cuellar.
“Dog fighting is vicious and cruel. And beyond the needless suffering it inflicts on animals, it exacts a toll on local animal shelters, charitable humane organizations, and the taxpayers of New Jersey,” U.S. Attorney Carpenito said. “We applaud our local and federal partners who investigated this case and brought the offenders to justice. The message from these sentencing hearing is simple: if you fight dogs in New Jersey, you will face prosecution and imprisonment.”
“Ending animal fighting ventures is important to our Division, and is often tied to other forms of crime. We dispatch prosecutors who focus in this area to districts across the country to join with our partners in the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in aggressively pursuing illegal animal fighting,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Wood. “This week’s sentencing proceeding demonstrates that our justice system will not tolerate the torment and death of animals in the fighting ring, all for the sake of illegal gambling.”
“The provisions of the Animal Welfare Act were designed to protect animals from being used in illegal fighting ventures, which often entail other forms of criminal activity involving drugs, firearms and gambling,” Special Agent in Charge Bethanne M. Dinkins for U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General said. “Together with the Department of Justice, animal fighting is an investigative priority for USDA OIG, and we will work with our law enforcement partners to investigate and assist in the criminal prosecution of those who participate in animal fighting ventures.”
According to court documents filed in connection with the cases and statements made in court:
From October 2015 through June 1, 2016, the defendants and their associates fought dogs – including to the death – and trafficked in dogs with other dog fighters in Indiana, Illinois, New Mexico, and elsewhere so that those dogs could be used in dog fights. They also maintained fighting dogs and dog fighting equipment such as dog treadmills, intravenous drug bags and lines, “breeding stands” used to immobilize female dogs, and chains weighing up to several pounds per linear foot. Agents found canine blood on the floor, walls, and ceiling of the basement of one defendant’s residence, indicating that the area was likely used as a dog fighting pit. One of the pleading defendants admitted that his dog died in his car on the way home after losing a dogfight.
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 dog fighting “victories.” To date, 98 dogs have been rescued as part of Operation Grand Champion, and either surrendered or forfeited to the government. The Humane Society of the United States assisted with the care of the dogs seized by federal law enforcement. The investigation is ongoing.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen O’Leary of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of New Jersey, and Trial Attorney Ethan Eddy of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section.
The case is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – Homeland Security Investigations, and the FBI.