"Operation Angry Birds": Cockfighting ring busted in Ulster County

Above: Two roosters square off at a cockfight in Andhra Pradesh, India. Photo by Flickr user Vijay Chennupati; posted under Creative Commons license

About 3,000 roosters were seized from a Plattekill farm on Sunday, as part of what Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is calling "the largest cockfighting takedown in New York State history." 

The farm was breeding roosters for cockfights at a venue in Queens, with help from a Brooklyn pet shop, according to a press release from Schneiderman's office. Raids were carried out and arrests made at all three locations on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Late Saturday night, the Attorney General's Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF) raided a cockfighting event on Jamaica Avenue in Queens, with help from the New York State Police and federal agents from Homeland Security Investigations. During the raid, 70 gamblers and spectators were detained, six of whom face felony charges for bringing fighting birds. About 65 roosters were seized.

Members of the OCTF also descended on Pet NV, a Brooklyn pet store at 71 Central Avenue, and found 50 fighting roosters in cages in the basement. Investigators found cockfighting gear at the store as well, Schneiderman announced, including artificial spurs and syringes used to inject performance-enhancing drugs into the roosters. Store owner Jeremias Nieves, 74, was arrested and charged with Prohibition of Animal Fighting. 

On Sunday, the OCTF and local law enforcement officers raided a 90-acre farm at 230 Plattekill Ardonia Road in Plattekill, where they found roughly 3,000 roosters. The owners had hid cages in the center of the property to keep the breeding operation from being detected, the news release said. 

The farm had been breeding roosters for cockfighting under cruel conditions for years, according to the release: 

These roosters were bred, trained, plied with performance-enhancing drugs, had razor-sharp gaffs attached in place of their natural spurs and were locked in a small pen to be wagered upon.

Officials said the Plattekill farm was charging rent to rooster owners from New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, who sent their birds to the farm for boarding and to be trained to fight in the ring. The farm breeding operation was discovered through surveillance by law enforcement, including investigation by the Ulster County Sheriff's Office and aerial surveillance by Homeland Security Investigations.

Farm manager Manuel Cruz, 60, and farmhand Jesus Cruz, 37, were arrested during the raid, and will be arraigned Monday in Plattekill town court. 

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) assisted in collecting evidence and removing the seized roosters, and are housing them in a shelter in an undisclosed location. 

In New York State, cockfighting and possession of a fighting bird at a cockfight are felonies, carrying penalties of up to four years in jail and a $25,000 fine. Paying to attend a cockfight is a misdemeanor, with penalties of up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. 

In the release, Schneiderman said that his office is working toward wiping out cockfighting nationwide:

“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,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “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. My office will keep working to hold these individuals accountable, and put an end to illegal cockfighting.”

The Times Herald-Record was on hand for the removal of some of the roosters from the Plattekill farm, and has video of cages being loaded onto ASPCA trucks. The New York Daily News has more on the raids in Queens and Brooklyn.