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Press Release

Operators Of "Big Blue" Cockfighting Pit, In McDowell, Kentucky, Sentenced To Prison

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Virginia

ABINGDON, VIRGINIA – United States Attorney Timothy Heaphy and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced that Walter Dale Stumbo, age 52, Sonya K. Stumbo, age 51, and Joshua Dale Stumbo, age 26, of Floyd County, Kentucky, were sentenced to prison today in United States District Court in Abingdon, Virginia, for their roles in operating the “Big Blue” cock fighting pit in McDowell, Kentucky. In addition, the Court ordered the Stumbos to forfeit $905,208.64. Law enforcement agents seized all of the Stumbos’ assets to be credited to the forfeiture.

“The Big Blue Sporting Club was a sophisticated criminal operation that collected substantial profits by abusing animals,” United States Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy said today. “The fighting birds were horribly mistreated by these defendants. Cases like this help bring illegal private gambling and animal cruelty out of the shadows. Thanks to the persistence and creativity of law enforcement, this operation has been exposed, its profits disgorged, and its operators held accountable.”

Sonya Stumbo was convicted on all counts at the conclusion of a three day trial on August 6, 2014. Walter Dale Stumbo and Joshua Dale Stumbo both pled guilty to all charges without the benefit of a plea agreement. The Stumbos each were convicted of one count of conspiring to operate an illegal gambling enterprise and illegally conduct cock fights; five counts of transporting fighting roosters across state lines; and five counts of transporting bird fighting knives across state lines. Two other co-defendants, Wesley Dean Robinson and his son, Jonathan Robinson, pled guilty pursuant to plea agreements, cooperated with law enforcement and were sentenced previously in accordance with their plea agreements. Jonathan Robinson also pled guilty to a drug distribution charge and his sentence included time for that offense. Wesley Dean Robinson was ordered to forfeit $50,000 and Jonathan Robinson was ordered to forfeit $10,000.

The sentences imposed on the five defendants in the case are as follows:

Walter Dale Stumbo 18 months
Sonya Stumbo 10 months
Joshua Dale Stumbo 10 months
Jonathan Robinson 12 months and 1 day
Wesley Dean Robinson 6 months

In imposing sentence, United States District Judge James P. Jones stated “It does not enhance the human being to inflict pain on animals. It simply doesn’t. It’s something that ought to stop. There is no good purpose for it, and, as the government points out, bad things happen around these types of events -- gambling obviously occurred, people spending money that they have no business spending, and we can all imagine the grief that may occur in families and individuals who become addicted to something like this. It diminishes us as human beings to treat animals in this fashion, and I think Congress has enacted a law that deserves enforcement.”

The successful prosecution was the result of a joint undercover operation by Virginia and Federal authorities. Evidence showed that the Stumbos, Robinsons and others organized a large scale and comprehensive cock fighting operation at the Big Blue Sportsmen’s Club (“Big Blue”) in McDowell, Kentucky, which included collecting “parking fees” from spectators, entrance fees from handlers and offering for sale such services as antibiotics for fighting birds, a full-service restaurant for spectators, cock houses for rental, and fighting gaffes for fighting cocks. The Robinsons transported birds and fighting gaffes from Wise County, Virginia, to Big Blue in Kentucky. On fight weekends at Big Blue, spectators and handlers traveled from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Georgia and other states. Spectators and participants were only allowed entry if they held a valid membership card. Each person was charged a one-time fee of $20 for the membership card. Entry fees to participate in the fighting were as high as $2,500 per entrant. At times, over 400 people attended and paid the $20 “parking fee.” While fights were taking place and after spectators had arrived, Dale Stumbo caused a bulldozer to be placed on the entrance road to the pit. The bulldozer remained in place until the fights concluded. Investigators executed search warrants on May 3, 2014, the second day of a two day derby billed as the “World Championship” and seized over $100,000 in cash from the Stumbos’ home near McDowell, Kentucky. Assistant United States Attorney Randy Ramseyer and Special

Assistant United States Attorney/Virginia Assistant Attorney General Michelle Welch prosecuted the case on behalf of the United States. The case is being investigated by the United States Department of Agriculture – Office of Inspector General, the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Bureau of Law Enforcement, and the Spotsylvania County Sheriff’s Office. In addition, the following agencies assisted in the arrests or related proceedings: Virginia Animal Fighting Task Force; Virginia State Police Tactical Team; Southwest Virginia Regional Task Force; Botetourt County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office; Wise County, Virginia, Sheriff’s Office and Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office; Virginia State Veterinarian’s Office; United States Homeland Security Investigations; Kentucky State Police; the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Kentucky; and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Updated February 27, 2024

Animal Welfare