Authorities bust major cockfighting pit in Alabama
Published 12:31 am Friday, August 5, 2016
Federal authorities took steps to shut down a cockfighting pit in Citronelle, Ala., on Friday, after multiple undercover investigations conducted by the FBI and The Humane Society of the United States. During the execution of a search warrant, authorities uncovered a huge arena with bleacher seating, concession stands, trophies, cockfighting paraphernalia and rental holding spaces for participants’ birds with space for more than 1,000 animals. The FBI seized evidence and is continuing the investigation. The HSUS assisted with the investigation by providing authorities with access to a confidential informant and expertise for evidence collection.
In the affidavit for the search warrant, an undercover FBI agent describes attending an illegal cockfighting derby on April 23, 2016. According to the affidavit, the agent witnessed the president of the Alabama Gamefowl Breeder’s Association, John Helm, addressing the crowd at the derby and describing his group’s efforts to block legislation to strengthen the penalties for cockfighting in Alabama and noting that he was friends with a state representative who would assist in those efforts. The agent also claims that Helm encouraged all participants to join the AGBA and solicited donations. There were 117 participants in that derby, each with seven birds competing.
Chris Schindler, director of animal crimes for The HSUS, said: “We’ve been targeting this pit for years, as it draws participants from across the region, has regular attendance of more than 400 people on a weekly basis, and can bring in more than $1 million throughout a cockfighting season, not counting side bets. The number of birds who have lost their lives in this pit is staggering and heartbreaking. We are grateful to the FBI for pursuing this case and finally moving to shut down this facility.
In 2012, The HSUS filed a complaint with the Alabama attorney general’s office requesting an investigation of the Alabama Gamefowl Breeders Association, arguing that it is unlawfully masquerading as a “nonprofit” while profiting from illegal cockfights.
Cockfighting is illegal under federal and state law, but Alabama has the weakest anti-cockfighting law in the country and carries a maximum fine of $50. The HSUS is working to revisit legislation to increase cockfighting penalties in the 2017 legislative session.