Four men who participated in an interstate dog-fighting network that stretched from New Jersey to New Mexico were sentenced to varying federal prison sentences, authorities announced Monday.
The last of them, 32-year-old Lydell "Sinn" Harris of Vineland was sentenced Monday to 17 months in prison.
Sentenced earlier this month were:
- Anthony “Monte” Gaines, 37, of Vineland: 42 months;
- Frank Nichols, 40, of Millville: 57 months;
- Pedro Cuellar, 47, of Willow Springs, Illinois: 12 months in prison.
All four previously pleaded guilty. A fifth co-defendant, Mario Atkinson, 42, of Asbury Park, also pleaded guilty and was scheduled for sentencing on April 18.
Four additional defendants apparently are going to trial, said U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Craig Carpenito.
“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,” Carpenito said. “We applaud our local and federal partners who investigated this case and brought the offenders to justice."
Ring members admitted in their pleas that they trafficked dogs with associates in New Jersey, Illinois, Indiana, New Mexico and elsewhere so that they could be used in fights – often to the death, the U.S. attorney said.
They also maintained fighting dogs and dog fighting equipment, such as treadmills, intravenous drug bags and lines, "breeding stands" used to immobilize female dogs and chains weighing up to several pounds per linear foot, he said.
Federal agents investigating the network “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,” Carpenito said.
“One of the defendants admitted that his dog died in his car on the way home after losing a dog fight,” he added.
Under the Animal Welfare Act, it is a federal crime to fight dogs or to possess, train, sell, buy, deliver, receive, or transport dogs intended for use in dog fighting.
It also violates state law in New Jersey, where a majority of the dogs used in the ring were rescued.
The prosecutions stemmed from “Operation Grand Champion,” a coordinated effort across numerous federal judicial districts to stop organized dog-fighting.
(The phrase “Grand Champion” is used by dog fighters to refer to a dog with more than five “victories.”)
Nearly 100 dogs were rescued as part of Operation Grand Champion and either surrendered or forfeited to the government.
Handling the case for the government is Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen O’Leary of the District of New Jersey and Trial Attorney Ethan Eddy of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section.
The case was 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, Carpenito said.
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