Asbury Park arrestee among 9 in alleged nationwide dog-fighting ring
A Monmouth County man is one of six New Jersey arrestees, among nine in four states, ensnared in a probe of an alleged interstate dog-fighting network stretching from New Jersey to New Mexico.
Criminal complaints were filed by the office of New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman against Mario Atkinson, 40, of Asbury Park; Anthony "Monte" Gaines, 35, Lydell Harris, 30, and Tiffany Burt, 34, of Vineland; Justine Love, 36, of Westville; Frank Nichols, 39, of Millville; Dajwan Ware, 43, of Fort Wayne, Indiana; Pedro Cuellar, 46, of Willow Springs, Illinois; and Robert Arellano, 62, of Albuquerque, NM.
Gaines is already in custody on unrelated charges. Investigators say that 66 dogs were rescued in the course of the probe tabbed "Operation Grand Champion," the term applied to dogs with more than five wins. The animals are in the care of the Humane Society of the United States.
The arrestees are accused of violating the federal Animal Welfare Act, which carries a maximum five-year prison term and fines up to $250,000 on conviction, for obtaining, selling, receiving, transporting or training dogs for fighting purposes.
Investigators contend that the defendants, and associates, conducted mauling matches among the pit-bull-type canines from October 2015 until now. The fights generally continued until one, or both, dogs die, investigators said.
Undercover detectives asserted that the defendants described fights in graphic terms, and traded information about bloodlines, training and fighting methods, and the market for buying and selling the animals.
Among the indicators that investigators said they found were scarred dogs, some stacked in crates, training equipment such as treadmills, "flirt" poles that build jaw strength and aggressive tendencies, animal pelts, and medical and surgical instruments used in lieu of veterinary care.
Charges are accusations. Defendants are presumed innocent unless, and until, found guilty in a court of law.