Five Arrested in 'Barbaric' Florida Dog Fighting Ring, Justice Department Announces

Pit Bull Ring
A pit-bull appears to be undergoing fight training in an image seized from the phone of defendant Derek Golson. U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Florida

Federal agents arrested five individuals pursuant to a 44-count indictment documenting their operation of a dog fighting ring in northern Florida, the Department of Justice announced this week.

Shane Patrick Sprague, 35, and Derek Jedidiah Golson, 38, both of Pensacola, Florida; Haley Cook Murph, 24, of Milton, Florida; David Lee Moser, 36, of Waynesboro, Tennessee; and James Peek, 67, of Milton, Florida, were brought into custody for violating the Animal Welfare Act, a 1966 federal law that prohibits "animal fighting ventures" and undertaking activities in order to realize those ventures.

"Dogfighting is a blight on humanity, one that has no place in the Northern District of Florida or anywhere else," Lawrence Keefe, the United States attorney for the Northern District of Florida, said in a press release. "We will continue to work with federal and local law enforcement agencies to root out this barbaric blood sport, in Florida and beyond."

The defendants are accused in a 20-page indictment of creating "C Wood Kennels," an outfit that would be used to facilitate their dog fighting transactions, according to prosecutors. The operation allegedly involved buying, selling, housing and transporting dogs in preparation for fights, including to other states.

The illicit venture is said to have begun in 2011, when Golson endeavored to sell breeding sessions with one of the dogs in their possession, Cain, on the dog pedigree verification website Peds Online. Afterward, Peek joined Murray in working to breed other dogs, and advertisements for sale of those puppies began to be posted on Peds Online "based on the dogs' fighting lineage," according to the indictment. The charging document characterizes Peds Online as an "underground dog fighting website."

Over the next several years, Golson, Sprague and Peek were implicated in ongoing breeding operations, ostensibly for the purposes of fighting as many of the puppies were described in the indictment as being part of a "bloodline of fighting dogs."

The indictment first details Murph's involvement in the ring in 2016, when she is accused of performing surgery without a veterinary license on injured dogs in order to secure their ability to continue to fight. This surgery involved removing dogs' ears, a common practice, along with tail docking, in the dog fighting world, according to the ASPCA.

Appendage removal ensures there are fewer opportunities for attacking dogs to latch onto something and cause injury. It also makes it more challenging for other dogs to read body language and understand "the animal's mood and intentions," stymieing fighting dogs' ability to communicate with one another.

Medical equipment maintained by the defendants included intravenous tubing, scalpels, skin staplers, suture removers and injectable animal steroids.

Moser and Murph more regularly participated in the transportation and delivery of dogs starting in the fall of 2016, according to the indictment.

The defendants are accused of maintaining and ongoing correspondence over the ensuing years, working to organize several fights between the dogs in their custody. In one message listed in the indictment, Murph texted Golson in May 2017 agreeing to hand over a so-called bait animal that he could use as a test dummy for his own dog, Captain, to "attack and/or kill." This would allow Golson to "evaluate Captain's fighting temperament."

Ultimately, multiple bait animals were allegedly victimized by the defendants and an unindicted co-conspirator, whom prosecutors did not name.

Federal law provides for a maximum of five years' imprisonment for each individual violation of the Animal Welfare Act. Four of the five defendants are implicated in multiple charges pertaining to their conduct as described in the indictment. This could yield a potentially decades-long sentence in federal prison if a jury votes to convict.

Lawyers for Peek, Murph, Sprague and Golson did not immediately return a request for comment. A representative for Moser could not be reached by press time.