Thursday, July 9, 2009

Dogfighting arrests net six people Suspected operation in Beckville among national ring arrests

By Jamaal E. O'Neal

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Authorities arrested six East Texans on Wednesday in connection with a suspected dogfighting operation that stretched across several states, officials said.

Federal investigators also arrested 24 people in other states on related charges.

Acting on federal arrest warrants, sheriff's officials from Gregg and Panola counties arrested Jerry S. Chism, 34, of Longview; Chad A. Courtney, 30, and Chase M. Courtney, 26, both of Carthage; and Devin L. Pelzl, 29, Harold D. Stewart, 41, and Karl S. Courtney, 34, all of Beckville, said Davilyn Walston, U.S. Attorney's Office spokeswoman.

Nine dogs, mostly pit bull terriers, were seized during a search in the 1100 block of CR 241 near Beckville, Walston said.

"These people would bring dogs from different states and have them fight at a ring near Beckville," Walston said.

According to court documents, investigators recorded calls between the suspects about breeding fight dogs and setting up dogfighting matches. Investigators also attended dogfighting matches in Beckville and witnessed large cash bets — in excess of $500 to $2,000 — being placed on the dogs, Walston said.

Panola County District Attorney Danny Buck Davidson was unavailable for comment Wednesday evening.

Walston said 30 people were arrested in connection with the national dogfighting ring and about 200 dogs were seized in Missouri, southern Illinois and East Texas. Authorities made the arrests after a nine-month investigation.

Dogfighting is banned throughout the United States and is a felony in 48 states. After a long campaign by animal-welfare groups, former President George W. Bush signed a law two years ago that increased penalties for activities that promote or encourage animal fighting.

If convicted, the defendants could be sentenced up to five years in federal prison and fined up to $250,000.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.