State and federal officials are joining forces to go after illegal cockfighting, with 23 people facing two federal indictments since November in organized illegal cockfighting in the state.
Federal prosecutors say the Upstate is also being targeted. Attorney General Henry McMaster says the combination of prosecutions may serve as more of a deterrent. In 2005, the state passed tougher penalties for illegal cockfighting–going from a minimum of $100 or a 30 days in jail to $1000 and up to a year in jail, for first offense. Federal penalties are, at first offense, up to five years and $5,000.
Federal prosecution also carries another penalty that he hopes will deter lawbreakers. “They have a forfeiture provision to where if the property were used in or bought with the proceeds, it can be forfeited,” says McMaster.
Cockfighting is illegal when a sharp instrument, called a gaff, is attached to the bird’s leg for the purpose of fighting another bird, usually to the death. State Attorney General Henry McMaster showed some of the confiscated instruments in Thursday’s press conference.
Those adults bring along other serious illegal activities, says U.S. Attorney Walt Wilkins.
“We would see between 50 and 150 persons attend, we would see purses, the winning individual who would submit three to five cocks would win up to between $15,000 and $30,000 per fight. So we’re not talking nickel and dime bets here. This is serious, organized gambling,” says Wilkins.
The two count indictments –for felony cockfighting and gambling– will bring tough penalties. And the investigation is ongoing, says Wilkins.
” I think taking on the organized cockfighting rings, one,will send a message that we take the crime seriously; two,working with the Attorney General’s office and the Department of Natural Resources, we will use federal resources to take on these; and three, if you are going to do it and you are holding it on your property, we will come after your property if you are violating this particular law.”
John Frampton, the director of the State department of Natural Resources says his investigators uncovered the cockfighting organizations as they were looking into illegal smuggling of game animals into the state.