Authorities have arrested about 30 people and seized as many as 350 dogs in dogfighting raids Wednesday across six states, according to the Justice Department and the Humane Society of the United States.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which cooperated in the investigation, said the target was believed to be the largest dogfighting operation in U.S. history. The raids by task forces involving federal, state and local law enforcement agencies were conducted across Missouri, southern Illinois and eastern Texas after a nine-month investigation.
According to the Humane Society, arrests were also made in Iowa, Oklahoma and Arkansas.
Dogfighting is banned throughout the United States and is a felony in all 50 states. President George W. Bush signed a law two years ago that increased penalties for activities that promote or encourage animal fighting after a long campaign by animal-welfare groups.
John M. Bales, the U.S. attorney in eastern Texas, said nine people in his state were indicted on June 30 of three counts - conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, sponsoring or exhibiting an animal in an animal fighting venture and buying, selling, delivering or transporting animals for participation in an animal fighting venture. If convicted, the defendants each face up to five years in federal prison and fines of up to $250,000.
Bales said eight people were arrested Wednesday in Texas' Panola and Gregg counties. Nine dogs, mostly pit bull terriers, were seized during a search of property in rural Panola County.
Bales said a veterinarian was onsite to care for the dogs along with representatives of the Humane Society. Bales said he's filed motions to put the dogs in the care of the Humane Society and asked a judge to order those charged in the case to reimburse the organization for the cost.
Indicted in Missouri were Michael "Missouri Mike" Morgan, 38; Robert Hackman, 55; Teddy "Teddy Bogart" Kiriakidis, 50; Ronald Creach, 34,; and Jack Ruppel, 35, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Prosecutors say Hackman ran the "Shake Rattle and Roll Kennel," Ruppel ran "Ozark Hillbillys Kennel," Morgan ran "Cannibal Kennel," and Creach ran "Hard Goodbye Kennel," the newspaper reports.
"The Humane Society of Missouri is vehemently opposed to this heinous blood sport," said the Humane Society of Missouri in a statement. "The way animals used in dog fighting are abused, at the hands of people for profit, is absolutely abhorrent."