An alleged cockfighting ring that was holding the bloody fights in a Woodhaven basement was busted this past weekend, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Sunday.
The takedown, termed “Operation Angry Birds,” after the popular game, stretched from a Woodhaven storefront to a farm upstate. It led to the rescue of thousands of roosters — the largest of fighting chickens in New York’s history, and among the largest in the United States, according to Schneiderman.
Seventy people initially were detained after state police and other law enforcement raided a cockfighting event Saturday night at 74-26 Jamaica Ave. — one block from the Brooklyn border and across the street from Franklin K. Lane High School. Sixty-five birds were rescued from the basement and given over to the ASPCA. At the same time, a pet store in Bushwick, Brooklyn called Pet NV was also raided by state police. There, they found 50 roosters in poor condition, having been kept inside individual metal cages and exhibiting all the physical hallmarks of having been bred, trained, and altered for fighting. Cockfighting contraband and implements were found, including artificial spurs, candle wax, medical adhesive tape, syringes used to inject performance-enhancing drugs to strengthen the roosters’ fighting ability and other cockfighting implements and paraphernalia, the authorities said.
“No animal should be forced to fight to the death for human entertainment and profit, and we are proud to play a leading role in removing and caring for these victimized birds, as well as offering expert legal assistance in this case,” ASPCA President and CEO Matthew Bershadker said in a statement.
On Sunday morning, officials from the Attorney General’s Office assisted by local and state police raided a 90-acre farm in Plattekill, NY in Ulster County. There, as many as 3,000 birds were recovered. The farm was previously registered as a commercial farm under the name CMC Plattikil, Inc., but has been unregistered since 2010. It had operated for years under the guise of a live poultry farm, and its owners allegedly hid thousands of makeshift cages within the center of the property to avoid detection by neighbors and law enforcement.
The roosters in the farm were also kept in deplorable conditions, according to Schneiderman. The owners allegedly charged rent to board, feed, and care for roosters that were bred and trained for fighting, with blood sport enthusiasts and rooster owners from the city, Long Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts boarding, training and sometimes fighting their roosters there. For years, roosters bred and trained at this farm were allegedly transported to Woodhaven and to the Brooklyn pet shop that was raided as well.
The roosters were allegedly bred, trained, plied with performance-enhancing drugs, had razor-sharp gaffs attached in place of their natural talons and were locked in a small pen to be wagered upon. The ASPCA established a temporary shelter at an undisclosed location to house and care for the animals.
At cockfighting events, which are illegal in all 50 states, spectators were charged an admission fee and an additional fee for a seat at the secret basement location that housed the all-night fights, Schneiderman said.
This ring allegedly had security personnel who frisked attendees, counter-surveillance within the neighborhood, security cameras and a paid referee. Owners and spectators allegedly placed bets on the outcomes of the fights, with individual wagers reaching $10,000. The fights, which began in the evening and lasted into the early morning hours, allegedly pitted dozens of roosters against one another to fight to the death.
In total, nine arrests were made on felony charges of animal fighting; six people in Woodhaven — Elisandy Gonzales, Orlando Bautista, Noel Castillo, Francisco Suriel, Samuel Rodriguez and Edward Medina; the pet store owner, Jeremy Nieves; and two men upstate, farm manager Manuel Cruz and farmhand Jesus Cruz.
At least two residents who live near the site of the alleged cockfights and did not want to be identified said the events were “an open secret” among neighbors.
“Everyone knew it was going on, but no one wanted to get involved,” one of the neighbors said. “There were rumors that there were drug dealers and gangs involved and nobody wanted to mess with that. I’m glad someone did something about it.”
A source close to the investigation said there have not yet been any links to drug dealing or gangs found in this cockfighting ring, but Schneiderman noted that there are often weapons, drugs or gang-related activity present at these events. Also, alcohol was allegedly sold without a permit at the Woodhaven location and it is alleged that drugs were used openly.
If convicted, the nine suspects face a maximum penalty of four years in jail and a fine of $25,000 each.