August 29, 2013 8:40:12 AM
MONTGOMERY -- A detective investigating a multi-state dog fighting case said each side usually bet $20,000 to $40,000 on a match and more than $100,000 could change hands on a Saturday night in the Alabama woods.
Auburn Police Detective Chris Carver worked with the FBI on the investigation and testified in federal court Wednesday in Montgomery. All 12 defendants from Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas appeared in court to enter not guilty pleas. All are charged with conspiring to sponsor dog fights or training animals for fights. Eleven face gambling charges. A judge set a Feb. 10 trial date.
Carver said investigators have information from informants and cooperating witnesses involving seven dog fights in east Alabama between 2011 and 2013, and they have audio, video or aerial surveillance from some fights.
He said the dog fighters would gather after dark on rural land around Waverly owned by defendant Donnie Anderson of Auburn, and spectators would pay $100 to $150 each to attend. The average amount of bets per dog per fight would be $20,000 to $40,000, and there would be two to five fights per Saturday night, he said. Anderson organized the fights and provided beer and hot dogs, he said.
He said officers stopped two vehicles that had been at one of the east Alabama fights. One had $32,000 in cash and the other more than $20,000. He said the men in one car admitted the money was from gambling.
He said the case began to unfold when a wiretap in a Georgia drug investigation revealed the suspect and Anderson talked about 50 times, mostly about dog fights. "They would discuss the initial wager amounts, which could average $20,000 to $30,000 dogs per fight," with side bets pushing the amount larger, he testified.
Under questioning by Anderson's attorney, the detective acknowledged that none of the surveillance photos were shot close enough to identify Anderson.
Investigators seized 367 pit bulls Friday in raids in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. Terry Mills, director of dog fighting investigations for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said 114 were seized from Anderson's property in Waverly and 12 from his home in Auburn.
All the dogs are now being cared for by the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States. Prosecutor Clark Morris said the two groups are doing evaluations of each dog and that will be used as evidence in the case.
Charged with Anderson are Demontt Allen of Houston, Texas; William Antone Edwards of Brantley; William Oneil Edwards of Elba; Robin Stinson of Elba; Michael Martin of Auburn; Lawrence Watford of Adel, Ga.; Ricky Van Le of Biloxi, Miss.; David Sellers of Opelika; Sandy Brown of Brownsville, Irkis Forrest of Theodore; and Carton Tippens of Riverdale, Ga.
Several defense attorneys declined comment, saying they had just met their clients and had not yet seen the prosecution's evidence.
If convicted, the defendants could get up to five years in prison on each of the dog fighting and gambling charges.
While the case moves along in federal court, the ASPCA and HSUS are trying to create new lives for the dogs.
Daisy Balawejder, dog-fighting recuse coalition coordinator for the Humane Society, said her organization is caring for 115 of the dogs, which now have individual kennels and plenty of food and medical care. "Many of the dogs we saw were underweight, she said in an interview.
The dogs will be held for evidence while the case is pending. During that period, they will undergo behavioral enrichment and rehabilitation. Eventually, the goal is to place them with shelters and organizations for adoption. She said they have an excellent success rate in retraining pit bulls.
"These animals have never had the opportunity to live in our world. Once they are given the option, they don't want to fight," she said.