Thursday, July 9, 2009

Feds Rescue 150 Pit Bulls in Dogfighting Raids Five Missouri men charged in multi-state investigation

By Lisa Wade McCormick

July 9, 2009

Federal authorities today charged five Missouri men for their involvement in illegal dogfighting ventures and seized more than 150 Pit Bull Terriers in what the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) calls the "largest simultaneous raid of multiple dogfighting operations" in the country's history.

The action comes on the heels of an investigation triggered by the Humane Society of Missouri, which worked closely with several federal and state law enforcement agencies.

HSUS officials said today's unprecedented raids and arrests in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas put a dent in the vicious blood sport of dogfighting--an illegal industry that "thrives off the pain and suffering of dogs."

"This intervention is a momentous victory in our ongoing battle to end the cruel, criminal dogfighting industry," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the HSUS. "With each raid we get one step closer to ending this cruel blood sport."

Today's indictment--filed in the Eastern District Court of Missouri--charges the following five defendants:

• Michael Morgan, a/k/a Missouri Mike, 38, Hannibal, Missouri, with two felony counts of conspiracy to commit federal offenses and one felony count of prohibitions against animal fighting ventures;

• Robert Hackman, 55, Foley, Missouri, with two felony counts of conspiracy to commit federal offenses and two felony counts of prohibitions against animal fighting ventures;

• Teddy Kiriakidis, a/k/a Teddy Bogart, 50, Leasburg, Missouri, with one felony count of conspiracy to commit federal offenses;

• Ronald Creach, 34, Leslie, Missouri, with one felony count of conspiracy to commit federal offenses;

• Jack Ruppel, 35, Eldon, Missouri, with two felony counts of conspiracy to commit federal offenses and two felony counts of prohibitions against animal fighting ventures.

According to the indictment, the defendants established and ran various kennel operations to purchase, breed, train, condition, and develop Pit Bull Terriers for participation in illegal dogfighting competitions. Specifically, authorities allege that Hackman operated "Shake Rattle and Roll Kennel," Jack Ruppel operated "Ozark Hillbillys Kennel," Michael Morgan a/k/a "Missouri Mike" operated "Cannibal Kennel," and Ronald Creach operated "Hard Goodbye Kennel."

The indictment also alleges that between January 2008 and June 2009 the defendants routinely and inhumanely abandoned, destroyed, and otherwise disposed of Pit Bull Terriers that lost fighting competitions, did not perform aggressively enough, or became injured, wounded, or disabled during these illegal contests.

"Forcing a dog to fight to its death is not a sport," said John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge of the St. Louis office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). "There is nothing respectable about encouraging two animals to torture and dismember each other. Individuals who participate in dog fighting claim to care for the animals, but they don't hesitate to electrocute their helpless dog once it loses a fight and can no longer provide any financial benefit."

If convicted, the defendants face a maximum penalty of five years in prison and/or fines of up to $250,000 for each count.

Federal authorities also filed motions seeking legal ownership of the dogs rescued and placing the animals in the care and custody of the Humane Society of Missouri.

"The Humane Society of Missouri provided initial information that led to this investigation," said Acting United States Attorney Michael Reap. "During the course of the investigation they also cared for animals involved when possible, and they are presently designated to provide continuing care for the seized dogs."

Animal behavior experts with the Humane Society of Missouri and other organizations will also evaluate each of the dogs rescued to see if they can be adopted.

Organized dogfighting is now a felony in all 50 states, according to the HSUS. But an estimated 40,000 people, HSUS officials said, still follow the barbaric dogfighting circuits across the U.S.--and an additional 100,000 meet on neighborhood streets, alleys, and hideaways.

Among the disturbing statistics reported by the HSUS about dogfights, which the organization calls a "sadistic contest:"

• More than 250,000 dogs are placed in dogfighting pits each year;

• Young children are sometimes present at these events, which can promote insensitivity to animal suffering, enthusiasm for violence, and a lack of respect for the law;

• Illegal gambling is the norm at dogfights. Dog owners and spectators wager thousands of dollars on their favorites animals;

• Authorities have found firearms and other weapons at dogfights because of the large amounts of cash present;

• Dogfighting has been connected to other types of violence, including homicides. A Chicago Police Department study also showed that 65 percent of people charged with animal abuse crime--including dogfighting --were also charged with violent crimes against people.

• Illegal drugs are often sold and used at dogfights.

The HSUS now offers up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in animal fighting.