Three New Jersey man and one Illinois man pleaded guilty Friday for participating in an interstate dog-fighting network, which spanned all the way from New Mexico to New Jersey.
The arrests were part of the Operation Grand Champion effort to cub dog fighting. All four dependents pleaded guilty in Trenton federal court:
Thirty-two-year-old Lydell Harris, aka “Sinn,” of Vineland, New Jersey pleaded guilty to one count of possessing a canine intended for dog fighting and one count of conspiracy to exhibit or sponsor a canine in dog fighting.
Thirty-six-year-old Anthony Gaines, AKA “Whiteboy,” of Vineland, New Jersey pleaded guilty to one count of owning a canine intended for dog fighting and two counts of conspiracy to sell, buy, transport, receive, possess and deliver canines intended for dog fighting.
Forty-year-old Frank Nichols of Millville, New Jersey pleaded guilty to one count of possessing a stole gun following a felony conviction and one count of conspiracy to deliver, transport, receive canines intended for dog fighting.
Forty-seven-year-old Pedro Cuellar of Willow Springs, Illinois pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to deliver, receive and transport canines intended for dog fighting.
On June 15, a fifth defendant, 42-year-old Mario Atkinson of Asbury Park, New Jersey pleaded guilty to one count of owning a canine intended for dog fighting and exhibiting and sponsoring a canine in a dog fight, according to court records.
Harris and Nichols pleaded guilty to indictments, while Cuellar, Atkinson and Gaines pleaded guilty to informations. Charges are still pending against all four of the defendants.
The defendants, their associates and co-defendants participated in dog fights from October 2015 and June 1, 2016. They sometimes fought the dogs to the death and trafficked dogs with other fighters in Illinois, New Jersey, Indiana and New Mexico for dog fighting ventures. They possess dog-fighting equipment, including intravenous drug lines and bags, heavy chains and “breeding stands.” They also maintained fighting dogs, according to court records.
In one of the defendant’s homes, blood was discovered on walls, ceilings and floors, which indicated that dog fighting had, took place there. One of the defendants said his dog had lost a fight and died in his vehicle on the way home.
“The criminal conduct speaks to the cruel conditions in which these animals live,” said acting U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick. “This office, along with our law enforcement partners and the Humane Society is working to end this illegal activity and punish those who abuse animals for their own enjoyment.”
The Operation Grand Champion has rescued 98 dogs since it was established. Dogs seized are put into the care of the Humane Society of the United States. Each dog-fighting charge carries a maximum find of $250,000 and a five-year prison sentence.
Sentencing for Cuellar and Nichols is scheduled for November 29, Harris and Gains, November 28, and Atkinson October 3. All defendants are innocent until proven guilty.