Four Plead Guilty to Involvement in Dog Fighting Network Across D.C., Virginia and Maryland

Four defendants have entered guilty pleas after being charged with federal felonies related to their involvement in a multi-state dog fighting ring.

Odell S. Anderson Sr. pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate animal-fighting prohibitions in the Animal Welfare Act and one count of causing a minor to attend an animal-fighting venture on Tuesday, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ). Emmanuel A. Powe Sr. pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge on May 10, while Chester A. Moody Jr. and Carlos L. Harvey pleaded guilty to the same charge on April 28.

"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," Bethanne M. Dinkins, special agent in charge of the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Office of Inspector General (USDA-OIG), said in a statement.

"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," added Dinkins.

Dog fighting is a felony offense in every U.S. state. The activity involves dogs being conditioned and trained to engage in brutal combat with each other, not infrequently leading to the death of the dogs forced to take part due to injuries. Spectators at the underground events often engage in illegal gambling, while drugs sales are also a common feature.

The dog fighting network that the four defendants were involved in is said to have operated in New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia between April 2013 and July 11, 2018. The defendants and unnamed co-conspirators allegedly participated in essentially every aspect of the venture, including breeding the dogs, training them and organizing the illicit events.

Dogs Dogfighting Fights DOJ Guilty Animal Abuse
Four defendants pleaded guilty to charges related to their involvement in a multi-state dog fighting ring, the Department of Justice announced on Tuesday. This undated file photo shows two dogs engaged in a playful fight not related to the illicit venture. dwphotos/Getty

Authorities highlighted one particular "two card" dog fighting event that took place on April 3, 2016. Defendants met at a Walmart parking lot in King George, Virginia before heading to another location for the event, which included two separate pairs of dogs fighting each other. For weeks, the dogs had been subjected to strenuous training routines, which can include the use of items like treadmills and heavy chains. At least one of the dogs died from injuries sustained in the fights.

"Organized dogfighting—whether on a professional, hobbyist or street fighter level—has no place in our society," said Jean E. Williams, acting assistant attorney general for the DOJ's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "Dogfighting is an extremely violent and secretive venture of animal abuse."

"Dogfighting is absolutely intolerable and callously subjects defenseless animals to inhumane treatment and abuse," added acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Raj Parekh. "We must protect and care for these animals—not cruelly turn them against each other for profit. Those who engage in this deplorable conduct will face justice to the fullest extent of the law."

The defendants, all in their 40s and 50s, could each face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the conspiracy charges. Anderson could face an additional three years and another $250,000 fine for taking a minor to a dog fighting event.

The case was prosecuted as part of a larger effort by federal law enforcement to combat dog fighting known as Operation Grand Champion, with "Grand Champion" being the moniker that people involved in dog fighting use to describe dogs with five or more fight wins.

The surviving dogs that had been used in the fights were rescued by federal authorities. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and other groups assisted in caring for the dogs after they had been taken into custody.

Newsweek reached out to HSUS for comment.