Groups allege North Carolina retains an extensive network of illegal cockfighting operations
Washington, D.C. — Animal Wellness Action (AWA) and the Animal Wellness Foundation (AWF) today asked North Carolina’s three U.S. Attorneys to launch an investigation into a substantial network of individuals throughout the state who are alleged to be knee-deep in the business of illegal trafficking of fighting animals and are brazenly marketing their birds for sale through social media accounts. These individuals may be reaping hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales of fighting birds – a source of income that they would be required to report to the Internal Revenue Service.
“North Carolina is a hub of the cockfighting trade in the East, with key industry players illegally selling birds to Mexico, Guam, the Philippines, and other far-flung destinations for combat,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action. “Cockfighters are knowingly violating federal laws that forbid these sales of fighting animals.” Mr. Pacelle provided details in an extensive report released today by the organizations and argued that North Carolina and a half dozen other states in the U.S. have become the key breeding ground for the world’s cockfighting industry.
The investigation was triggered by data AWA and AWF obtained through the Guam Department of Agriculture, with the groups securing more than 2,500 pages of avian shipping records dated November 2017 to September 2020. These records detail more than 500 shipments of birds by 60 individuals from more than a dozen states to Guam, where more than 130 individuals purchased the birds for fights in the U.S. territory. These shipping records revealed that North Carolina was among the top five shippers in the nation to Guam, trailing only Oklahoma, California, Hawaii, and Alabama when it comes to the volume of birds transported to this long-time hotbed of cockfighting. There is no legitimate explanation for this volume of transports given that Guam does not have a significant animal agriculture industry or a show-bird circuit.
A federal law went into effect on December 20, 2019 forbidding any animal fighting on Guam, but it has been a federal felony to transport birds across state lines for fighting since May 2007. All of North Carolina’s federal lawmakers, except for Virginia Foxx and G.K. Butterfield, backed the 2018 amendment to the federal animal fighting law to ban animal fighting in the U.S. territories, including Guam.
AWA and AWF learned that the shippers use the U.S. Postal Service to transport the birds, packing the live animals into boxes and sending them in the cargo holds without food or water. Shipments to Guam are just indicators of a far larger trade in U.S.-produced fighting birds to other foreign jurisdictions, including Mexico, the Philippines, Vietnam, and other nations where the activity is not uncommon.
A detailed report from AWA and AWF points to apparent illegal animal fighting activities by a range of individuals immersed in animal trafficking.
- Kevin Reece, of Widowcreek Gamefarm and an ex-commissioner in Ronda, allegedly shipped live birds for fighting through the U.S Postal Service in apparent violation of federal law. His price list, published on-line, includes several bloodlines for export for up to $2000. “I do ship roosters to other parts of the world - yes…I would agree that I also fought roosters in the past – yes, “he said in a deposition related to a legal dispute with the Mayor over a local ordinance to restrict private citizens from maintaining large flocks of crowing roosters. AWA and AWF have shipping records for Mr. Reece obtained from the Guam Department of Agriculture revealing exports of 654 birds.
- Anthony Morton, of LumbeeBoy Gamefarm, shares interviews on his Facebook page that he’s done with online industry outlets called “Journey to the Pit” and “Purebred Warrior.” He touts his birds as effective fighters. “My blueface bloodline is hard-hitting fowl,” he said. “My yellow-leg hatch is very smart and accurate cutters.” He boasts that he’s “sold fowl all over the US” and has “had a lot of interest out of Mexico” and that “the great Philippines has always been a popular area and I’ve been getting some great feedback from Vietnam.”
- Jesus Merida shares videos of sparring roosters on his Facebook page. He also shared pictures of shipments being sent out using the U.S. Postal Service in apparent violation of federal law.
- James Yates shared pictures on his Facebook page of transports of birds and also has published images of him using the U.S Postal Service for the shipment of birds. He also apparently works with Domi Corpus, a California-based cockfighter who is reportedly the largest broker and exporter in the entire U.S., with his birds destined for Guam, Mexico, the Philippines, and Vietnam.
- James Edwards of Traphill (297 birds) and Jeff Hudspeth of Ronda (152 birds) also shipped birds to Guam, according to records obtained from the Guam Department of Agriculture.
“It is a federal felony to possess fighting animals and then to sell them around the world for staged battles,” noted Drew Edmondson, the four-time Oklahoma Attorney General and co-chair of the National Law Enforcement Council for Animal Wellness Action and the Animal Wellness Foundation. “The people involved in this illegal trade are taking enormous risks to participate in this kind of cruelty to animals.” General Edmondson has been working with Animal Wellness Action to target illegal animal fighting throughout the United States and was centrally involved in defending Oklahoma’s 2002 ballot initiative outlawing cockfighting and making it a felony offense.
Under current federal law, it is a crime to:
- Knowingly sponsor or exhibit an animal in a fighting venture;
- Knowingly attend an animal fighting venture, or knowingly cause an individual who has not attained the age of 16 to attend an animal fighting venture;
- Knowingly buy, sell, possess, train, transport, deliver, or receive any animal for purposes of having the animal participate in an animal fighting venture;
- Knowingly use the mail service of the U.S. Postal Service, or any “written, wire, radio televisions or other form of communications in, or using a facility of, interstate commerce,” to advertise an animal for use in an animal fighting venture, or to advertise a knife, gaff, or other sharp instrument designed to be attached to the leg of a bird for us in an animal fighting venture, or to promote or in any other manner further an animal fighting venture except as performed outside the U.S.;
- Knowingly sell, buy, transport, or deliver in interstate or foreign commerce “a knife, a gaff, or any other sharp instrument” designed or intended to be attached to the leg of a bird for us in an animal fighting venture.
The state has an organization called the North Carolina Gamefowl Breeders’ Association, and AWA and AWF believe that works behind the scenes to support the state’s illegal cockfighting industry. Cockfighting is a felony under North Carolina law. Penalties for each violation of the federal law against animal fighting allows for a maximum of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for perpetrators, except for an adult attending an animal fighting venture. Penalties for an adult in attendance are 1 year in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Animal Wellness Action (Action) is a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(4) organization with a mission of helping animals by promoting legal standards forbidding cruelty. We champion causes that alleviate the suffering of companion animals, farm animals, and wildlife. We advocate for policies to stop dogfighting and cockfighting and other forms of malicious cruelty and to confront factory farming and other systemic forms of animal exploitation. To prevent cruelty, we promote enacting good public policies and we work to enforce those policies. To enact good laws, we must elect good lawmakers, and that’s why we remind voters which candidates care about our issues and which ones don’t. We believe helping animals helps us all.
The Animal Wellness Foundation (Foundation) is a Los Angeles-based private charitable organization with a mission of helping animals by making veterinary care available to everyone with a pet, regardless of economic ability. We organize rescue efforts and medical services for dogs and cats in need and help homeless pets find a loving caregiver. We are advocates for getting veterinarians to the front lines of the animal welfare movement; promoting responsible pet ownership; and vaccinating animals against infectious diseases such as distemper. We also support policies that prevent animal cruelty and that alleviate suffering. We believe helping animals helps us all.