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7 members of Alabama family sentenced in federal bust of "one of the largest cockfighting operations" in the U.S.

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Seven members of an Alabama family will serve sentences, ranging from probation to two years in federal prison, for running what authorities called "one of the largest cockfighting operations" in the country, prosecutors announced Wednesday.

The Department of Justice said the final member of the Easterling family of Verbena, Alabama, was sentenced this week after pleading guilty to violating the Animal Welfare Act's prohibition against animal fighting. For more than two years, the defendants allegedly held illegal cockfighting events at an arena with stadium-style seating for 150 people.

Prosecutors said participants paid large entry fees - up to $1,500 to fight seven roosters - while spectators wagered on the roosters, which fought with blades strapped to their legs, according to court documents.

 Participants were "told what weapons to strap to the roosters' legs, such as short knives, long knives or spurs," prosecutors said. 

The defendants also ran two large fighting-bird breeding businesses known as Swift Creek Gamefarm and L&L Gamefarm where thousands of birds were bred and sold to be used in fights, according to court documents.

"As these sentences vividly show, the Department of Justice will continue to hold accountable those who encourage and profit from forcing animals to fight each other for human entertainment," said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.

George William "Billy" Easterling, 56, was sentenced to 22 months in prison. Brent Colon Easterling, 38, was sentenced to 24 months in prison. William "Tyler" Easterling, 30, was sentenced to 20 months in prison. William Colon "Jim" Easterling, 77, was sentenced to two years of home detention instead of prison because of his declining health.

"The court determined that the illegal conduct involved animal fighting on an 'exceptional scale' and imposed sentences which reflect the unusual cruelty of a business model that relies on the death or injury of thousands of birds for entertainment and profit," prosecutors said.

A judge this fall sentenced three other family members -- Kassi Brook Easterling, 39, Amber Nicole Easterling, 25, and Thomas Glyn "Junior" Williams, 34 -- to probation for their roles in the fighting and bird-breeding operations.

"The U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General (USDA-OIG) actively investigates allegations of animal abuse and any associated gambling activities," said Special Agent in Charge Jason Williams of the USDA-OIG. "This agency has made animal fighting a high priority to demonstrate that these blatant acts of cruelty to animals will not be tolerated."

Earlier this year in Southern California, authorities broke up a large cockfighting event and said they were forced to euthanize nearly 150 roosters.

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