Family Pleads Guilty to Federal Charges in Major Cockfighting Case
By Wayne Pacelle
In August, seven Alabama residents pled guilty in federal court to a range of charges related to their vast cockfighting empire that stretched from Central Alabama into Mexico and all the way to the Philippines.
Animal Wellness Action and the Animal Wellness Foundation has urged the federal court considering the United States’ criminal case against Brent Easterling, William Easterling, and five other family members based in Verbena, Alabama, to mete out prison time and six-figure fines on the perpetrators. A signal must be sent to the massive underworld of cockfighters who have thus far evaded federal prosecution.
The U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama and prosecutors from the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice has charged the Easterlings with conspiracy to violate federal anti-animal fighting laws, including operating fighting pits on their properties, possessing thousands of fighting animals, transporting those animals across the globe for fighting, and trafficking in cockfighting implements.
The United States filed additional papers that included plea agreements from the Easterlings, admitting their involvement in a range of illegal animal fighting activities.
Now the federal judge presiding in the case will render a sentence in the proceedings. USDA’s Office of Inspector General and Homeland Security Investigations conducted extensive investigations on the Easterlings prior to the filing of federal charges against them. A sentencing hearing for these defendants will occur later this fall.
Animal Wellness Action and AWF had earlier identified Brent Easterling as a major trafficker in fighting animals and implements. The groups presented extensive evidence to the United States about his involvement and shared a dossier on him with the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama and with other federal law enforcement officials.
The Easterlings made hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps millions, on the illicit sale of fighting birds. Brent Easterling frequently transported his birds to Mexico, which is a major destination for U.S.-reared fighting animals and participated in fighting derbies all over the world, as a means of then marketing the birds he raised and trained to be cut up in fights.
It is critical now for the federal court impose substantial prison time and fines on the Easterlings for their central role in a complex, demonstrably illegal, multimillion-dollar animal fighting syndicate that stretched across the globe. The other big cockfighting networks in the U.S. are watching and hoping that they won’t be next if the federal government punishes them in a way that is aligned with the strict penalties provided for in the law.
Indeed, while the Easterlings were one of America’s biggest cockfighting syndicates, they are part of a far larger network of animal fighters in Alabama and throughout the United States that have made America the breeding ground for the global cockfighting industry.While some are destined for fighting pits in the U.S., hundreds of thousands of birds move from cockfighting farms here to dozens of nations throughout the world.
Penalties for each violation of any one of these provisions allows for a maximum of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for perpetrators, except for an adult attending an animal fighting venture. Penalties for an adult in attendance are 1 year in prison and a $5,000 fine.
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It is critical now for the federal court impose substantial prison time and fines on the Easterlings for their central role in a complex, demonstrably illegal, multimillion-dollar animal fighting syndicate that stretched across the globe.