Raids in Miss., La. net dogs and dogfighting equipment

Published 3:45 pm Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Authorities arrested 14 people in Mississippi and Louisiana on Tuesday in a federal cocaine trafficking investigation that also resulted in more than 40 dogs being seized from a large dog fighting operation.

The group was indicted on 21 counts by a federal grand jury for conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine hydrochloride, said U.S. Attorney Jim Letten of the Eastern District of Louisiana.

During the drug investigation, Drug Enforcement Agency investigators learned of the dog fighting, breeding and training operation, DEA New Orleans spokesman Michael Sanders said.

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Local law enforcement and animal protection organizations in Mississippi’s Harrison County and St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana were involved with Tuesday’s operation.

Harrison County Sheriff George Payne Jr. said 41 dogs were confiscated in Mississippi and an animal protection organization said six more were taken in Louisiana.

“Our information is … Mississippi was where they were keeping the animals and training the animals and south Louisiana was where they were doing the fighting,” Payne said.

Laura Maloney of the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said her organization was among groups assisting authorities. She said the dogs, all American pit-bulls, showed signs of fighting with both “old and fresh wounds.”

“The dogs are scarred to quite an extent,” she said in an interview.

Five dead dogs were to be exhumed for evaluation from burial locations on the Mississippi property, Maloney said.

Dr. Melinda Merck, who specializes in forensic medicine for animals, was documenting the medical condition of the animals and was to help the SPCA prepare evidence, a news release from the organization said.

In addition to the dogs, the sites had dogfighting paraphernalia including scales for weighing before a match, breed stands used to mate aggressive dogs, treadmills used to prepare dogs for matches, the dogfighting magazine Sporting Dog Journal and other dogfighting related books, and extensive records noting successes and losses in dogfighting contests.

“They were what are called ‘keeps,’” Maloney said of the raided sites. “It’s a place for a training regimen to get the dogs ready for fights.”

The Harrison County Sheriff’s Department was planning to charge those arrested in Mississippi with felony counts of dogfighting. In St. Bernard Parish, felony charges were under consideration, Maloney said.

The Humane Society of South Mississippi was working to make room for the dogs seized in Mississippi, spokesman Joe Elmore said. The organization’s Gulfport facility holds up to 200 dogs and 100 cats.

Authorities will hold the dogs in quarantine until a decision is made about their future. Elmore said they face options ranging from euthanasia to adoption, depending on the outcome of the case and evaluations of each dog.

The shelter has housed seized fighting dogs before.

“Dogfighting is very much an underground activity but it’s prevalent throughout the nation, particularly in the Deep South,” Elmore said. “It’s on the increase in the nation. What we hope to see is stronger anticruelty laws because it is a form of animal cruelty certainly.”

Those arrested are: Jason Brook, 30, Chalmette, La.; Maxwell Landry, 28, Pass Christian, Miss.; Jessica Wilson, 24, Metairie, La.; John Rockwell, 48, Chalmette; Jose Vasquez, 29, Metairie; Ryan Myers, 31, Marrero, La.; Paul Purvis, 31, Metairie; Joab Jett, 30, Metairie; Damien Callais, 27, Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Vernon Cook, 35, Mandeville, La.; Sean Villavaso, 34, Metairie; Dennis Brown, 37, Marrero; Brandon Cooley, 29, Covington, La.; Robert Rosanni, 55, Chalmette.

They face decades in jail and millions in fines if convicted.