April 2, 2013 9:45:24 AM
JACKSON -- A raid on a barn in northern Mississippi over the weekend busted up what is thought to be one the biggest annual dogfights in the United States with organizers and participants from around the country, authorities said Monday.
A monthslong investigation involving numerous federal, state and local agencies culminated in the raid Saturday night where at least 200 people gathered in a barn at the end of a dirt road in Benton County, authorities said.
Marshall County Sheriff Kenny Dickerson said shots were fired when officers arrived but nobody was hurt and authorities didn't return fire. He said it's not clear if the suspects shot at the officers or into the air.
Dickerson said the man believed to be the main organizer was arrested at the scene. Dickerson would say only that the man was from California.
Dickerson said authorities are looking for the man who owned the property, but it's not clear if he was involved. It could have been one of his relatives who volunteered the use of the barn, the sheriff added.
Dickerson said authorities believe the fight was among five of the biggest held annually in the country.
"This is one of the all-star fights in the United States for dogfighting," Dickerson said.
The winner of the event could have made big money by later breeding the victorious dog, Dickerson said.
Twenty dogs were rescued. Two had already fought and one of them died, said Chris Schindler, manager of animal fighting investigations for the Humane Society of the United States.
Nearly 50 people have been arrested and authorities are looking for others who fled, some running into the woods and leaving behind their vehicles, said David Murphy, an investigator with the Benton County Sheriff's Office.
At least 70 vehicles were seized. Murphy said many of the cars had out-of-state tags from places as far away as California, Florida, New Hampshire and Ohio. Some of them were rental cars and authorities are trying to track down who rented them.
Dickerson said between $50,000 and $100,000 in cash has been recovered and the event could have generated several hundred thousand dollars.
The organizers probably chose the site because it was a secluded spot in a rural area where they thought the activities would go unnoticed, Dickerson said.
Authorities said they believe there was another dogfight Friday night run by the same organization in Tallahatchie County, Miss., but they couldn't find it, Dickerson said.
Schindler said the "fight drew some of the biggest names in organized dogfighting."