Thursday, July 9, 2009

Dog-fighting ring operated in Northwest Missouri, indictment alleges

By MARK MORRIS The Kansas City Star

A federal grand jury has indicted two western Missouri men and five others for purportedly operating a pit bull dog-fighting ring in Northwest Missouri.

The men allegedly participated in a multi-state ring that is being called the largest in the country.

Authorities seized 53 dogs in early-morning raids on several locations in western Missouri and more than 350 dogs total in a coordinated sweep involving locations in several states. Most of the dogs were pit bull terriers, federal officials said.

The local charges, unsealed Wednesday morning in Kansas City, allege that Rick P. Hihath, 55, of St. Joseph, Cris E. Bottcher, 48, of Gilman City, Mo., Jill D. Makstaller, 32, of Perry, Iowa, Julio Reyes, 28, of Tecumseh, Neb., Zachary R. Connelly, 32, of Ogden, Iowa, Kevin P. Tasler, 51, of Jefferson, Iowa, and Ryan J. Tasler, 32, of Woodward, Iowa, conspired to sponsor a dog-fighting enterprise.

According to the indictment, the conspirators bet thousands of dollars on the outcome of at least three fights that occurred between late February and early May at Bottcher’s farm in Gilman City, about 100 miles northeast of Kansas City in Harrison County.

After an April 25 fight, Bottcher alleged used a .22 caliber rifle to shoot two dogs who had fought that night, “but did not perform to the handler’s/owner’s expectations,” according to the indictment.

At a Feb. 28 dog fight, Connelly and Ryan Tasler purportedly discussed how they disposed of dogs they had killed after fights.

“They said they burn their dogs in a barrel so if police come to their property all the police would see are holes burned in the ground,” the indictment alleged.

The indictment also alleged that Bottcher and Hihath spoke of killing dogs and throwing them in the river.

The indictment also alleged that conspirators denied “adequate and humane medical treatment” for wounds or injuries that the dogs had suffered in the fights.

The Human Society of Missouri is helping to shelter dogs seized in Missouri and Illinois, officials announced this afternoon.

To contact Mark Morris, call 816-234-4314 or send e-mail to mmorris@kcstar.com.