Feds taking ownership of NJ pit bulls used in suspected dog-fighting ring
NEWARK — Federal prosecutors are seeking to take ownership of six pit bull-type dogs that were allegedly used in a multi-state dog-fighting network.
Authorities charged eight people in connection to the ring. As they await trial, the government is seeking to permanently take possession of the dogs through civil asset forfeiture — a legal process prosecutors normally use to confiscate proceeds of suspected drug crimes and other wrongdoing.
The Humane Society of the Unites States is assisting with the care of the dogs seized by federal law enforcement.
According to U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, the dog-fighting network spanned from New Mexico to New Jersey and operated from at least October 2015. The dogs were seized on June 1 from a Westville home owned by the family of Glassboro resident Justin Love, 36. Love and seven others were arrested the same day on charges of violating the Animal Welfare Act.
In a statement Thursday, Fishman said when the dogs were discovered, many of them had conditions including scars and aggression toward other dogs that were consistent with dog fighting.
"For example, one of the female dogs, subsequently identified as 'Momba,' had severe scarring and showed signs of other serious injuries consistent with her participation in dog fights. Her physical condition also indicated that she was used for breeding, which was further corroborated by intercepted phone conversations allegedly involving Love," Fishman said.
In June, Fishman said the dogs were set up for matches to fight, attack and maul each other, often until one of both of the dogs died. The defendants also transported these dogs to various states for the matches, according to authorities.
While executing a search warrant at Love's property, investigators found various items used to train, treat and breed dogs for fighting.
"Other indications of unlawful dog fighting were found on the Westville property, including paraphernalia such as 'flirt' poles,” which are used to condition a dog and foster natural hunting instincts, and a spring pole, which is used to strengthen a dog’s neck and jaw muscles," authorities said.
Detectives also found medications and syringes as well as topical and oral antibiotics that dog fighters often use to treat the animals themselves, since veterinary attention might raise suspicion as to the cause of the injuries, authorities said.
Authorities searching the property found five dogs being kept in pens made of metal fencing separated by thick slats. Some were chained to the inside of the cages and a sixth dog was in an elevated cage with a bottom made of a wire fence.
In addition to Love, other New Jersey residents charged were:
- Anthony “Monte” Gaines, 35, of Vineland (already in state custody on unrelated charges);
- Lydell Harris, 30, of Vineland;
- Mario Atkinson, 40, of Asbury Park;
- Frank Nichols, 39, of Millville; and
- Tiffany Burt, 34, of Vineland
Authorities also arrested Dajwan Ware, 43, of Fort Wayne, Indiana; Pedro Cuellar, 46, of Willow Springs, Illinois and Robert Arellano, 62, of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
"Persons engaged in dog fighting exclusively use pit bull-type dogs due to their short coat, compact muscular build, and the aggressive temperament that some exhibit toward other dogs," Fishman said.
Under the federal Animal Welfare Act, dog fighting or training, buying, selling, possessing or transporting dogs for the purpose of fighting is punishable by up to five years in prison. The defendants could face up to five years in prison as well as a $250,000 fine for each count of animal fighting if convicted, authorities said.
The statute also allows for the seizure and forfeiture of animals that have been involved in dog fighting. Once in the custody of federal authorities, the dogs can be evaluated and eventually put up for adoption, the U.S. Attorney says.
Toniann Antonelli is a social content producer for NJ 101.5. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.