Eight Arrested and 3,000 Birds Rescued As "Operation Angry Birds" Busts Cockfight in Queens
On Saturday night, state police, investigators from the New York Attorney General's Office, and the Department of Homeland Security brought an end to a popular attraction held at an abandoned storefront in Queens: a cockfighting ring, where roosters raised in upstate New York and held at a pet store in Brooklyn were made to fight to the death. Really? We can't find anything better to do with our weekends, cockfighting spectators?
Image via Google Maps. 74-26 Jamaica Avenue, where the cockfights were reportedly held.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced this weekend that investigators from his office's New York State Organized Crime Task Force had arrested and charged eight people in the alleged cockfighting ring, in an investigation they dubbed "Operation Angry Birds." During the Saturday night raid, according to the New York Times , officers watched as people paid $40 each and filed into the basement of a vacant storefront at 74-26 Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven. The roosters waiting to fight were held in sacks on the basement wall; many of the 65 birds rescued, per the NYT, had "their natural spurs clipped off and with sharper metal spurs attached to their bodies."
The American Society for the Cruelty of Prevention to Animals (ASPCA) took custody of those birds and set up a temporary shelter for them. Five men were arrested on charges of conspiracy and animal fighting (unless you're at a rodeo, New York state law very strictly prohibits "any fight between cocks or other birds, or between dogs, bulls, bears or any other animals.") Those men have been identified as Elisandy Gonzales, Orlando Bautista, Noel Castillo, Francisco Suriel and Edward Medina.
Meanwhile, investigators also arrested Jeremias Nieves, the 74-year-old owner of Pets NV, a pet store in Bushwick, after they found 50 more roosters in cages in his basement. Nieves reportedly admitted to selling the birds, who the AG's office reported were found "in poor condition," but insisted he didn't fight them; investigators believe he brought the birds to the fights in Woodhaven. A press release from the AG's office said that a number of cockfighting supplies were found in the basement near the birds, including "artificial spurs, candle wax, medical adhesive tape, syringes used to inject performance enhancing drugs to strengthen the roosters' fighting ability."
But roosters have to come from somewhere, and on Sunday, investigators also raided a farm in upstate New York, in the tiny town of Plattekill, where the ASPCA took custody of around 3,000 more live birds. The farm manager, Manuel Cruz, and another worker, Jesus Cruz, were arrested during that raid.
The spectators at the Queens fight do not appear to have been charged; the NYT reports that while all of them were taken into custody, only those withoutstanding warrants were held. That's despite a 2011 law, lauded by the Humane Society, that made being a spectator at an animal fight a misdemeanor offense, punishable by up to three months in prison and a $500 fine.
The full press release from the Attorney General's office announcing the bust is on the following page.