The largest cockfighting bust in state history occurred last weekend following a raid on a vacant storefront on Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven, where bloody battles between birds were allegedly taking place, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said.
The takedown, known as “Operation Angry Birds,” included Saturday’s raid at 74-26 Jamaica Ave. in Woodhaven, as well as an arrest of a Brooklyn pet shop owner who allegedly brought birds to the Queens spot to fight, Schneiderman said. On Sunday, investigators raided a 90-acre farm in Plattekill, located about 70 miles north of New York City, where they said thousands of birds had been allegedly raised in “deplorable” conditions and trained to fight.
The entire operation resulted in 70 people being taken into custody, nine felony arrests, and the rescue of more than 3,000 birds, the attorney general’s office said. The ASPCA assisted in the removal and sheltering of the birds.
“Cockfighting is a cruel, abusive and barbaric practice that tortures animals, endangers the health and safety of the public and is known to facilitate other crimes,” Schneiderman said in a prepared statement. “My office, along with our partners in law enforcement and animal welfare, are committed to ending this vicious blood sport. This investigation – one of the largest in U.S. history – illustrates the prevalence of cockfighting in America, its brutal nature and the link to other illegal activities.”
Along with the attorney general’s office and the ASPCA, the Ulster County Sheriff’s office, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the New York State Police assisted with the operation.
“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. “This collaborative investigation, intervention and enforcement is a giant step toward our shared goal of wiping out cockfighting in America.”
On Saturday night, officials stormed the Jamaica Avenue spot, where Schneiderman said a 70-person event, including bettors and spectators, was busted up. Six of those individuals, who had allegedly brought and fought birds, were charged with felony prohibition of animal fighting. The other individuals were released, and the ASPCA took control of 65 fighting birds.
According to Schneiderman, the Woodhaven ring had allegedly been operating bimonthly events at the Jamaica Avenue local since at least May, when the attorney general’s office first began monitoring the cockfighting.
At the same time, investigators executed a search warrant for Pet NV, a shop owned by Jeremias Nieves, 74, at 71 Central Ave. in Brooklyn, and 50 fighting birds were rescued from a basement beneath the store, Schneiderman said. Nieves was arrested and also charged with prohibition of animal fighting.
The roosters, Schneiderman’s office said, were found in poor condition and had been kept inside metal cages and allegedly “exhibited all the physical hallmarks of having been bred, trained and altered for fighting.”
In addition to the roosters, cockfighting contraband was allegedly found, including artificial spurs, candle wax, medical adhesive tape, and syringes used to inject performance-enhancing drugs to strengthen the roosters’ fighting ability, the attorney general said.
Sunday morning, law enforcement agents descended upon the Plattekill farm, where the 3,000 birds were rescued. According to Schneiderman, the farm had allegedly 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 farm’s manager, Manuel Cruz, 60, and Jesus Cruz, 37, a farm hand, were arrested.
At the farm, the owners allegedly charged rent to board, feed and care for the birds that were bred and trained for fighting, the attorney general said. Rooster owners from New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Massachusetts allegedly boarded, trained, and sometimes fought their roosters there, Schneiderman said.
At the cockfighting events, Schneiderman said individuals often bet as much as $10,000 on fights that pitted roosters in battles to the death.
By Anna Gustafson