LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - Suspects in an alleged cockfighting operation are now facing more charges.
19 people have been charged with engaging in organized criminal activity. 16 of the originally charged were given the new charges. 3 new suspects were connected to the operation. Angelina County Capt. Alton Lenderman said all of the suspects have been cooperating with the department and have turned themselves in willingly. The new charges will not replace the original charges, but will be added to the suspects cases.
"We found people taking money for admission to the events and book keeping records that indicated they were taking money," Lenderman said. "We could tell that this was going on for a while and this was not just a one time thing."
In April, the Sheriff's Office received a citizen complaint and after a two-week investigation, they obtained a search warrant.
In collaboration with the Texas Department of Public Safety, TABC, the Dallas County District Attorney's Office, and the FBI, they were able to execute the search warrant .Sheriff Sanches with the Angelina County Sheriff's Office said deputies arrived on the scene around 10:30 a.m. Saturday April 25, after information led them to a cockfighting operation. He said 17 people were arrested and charged with cockfighting.
"They are all going to be charged with a state jail felony," said Sanches.
According to the Texas Legislature, cockfighting is considered a blood sport and violates several state animal cruelty laws. However, there's another reason the Sheriff's Office is taking the crime so seriously.
"Anytime you have cockfighting going on, it's usually associated with other crimes," Sanches said.
Gambling paraphernalia and an illegal weapon were found on scene .According to Sanches, cockfighting has not been taken very seriously in the past, but he hopes to change that.
"We're not going to turn our head," Sanches said. "Whether is be chicken fighting or illegal drugs, we're going to be proactive and aggressive."
The investigation is ongoing. According to the SPCA of Texas, 315 roosters, hens and juvenile birds were seized. Because owners of seized birds often try to break in and steal the confiscated area, the organization is keeping them at an unnamed, secure location. Maura Davies, Vice President of Communications for SPCA of Texas said experience has taught them that because cock fighting can be a moneymaker, owners will go to great lengths to steal back the birds.
"Which is not surprising given the fact that some of these birds in a major cock fight can take anywhere from $10K to $20K," Davies shared. "There's been a case where one single fight can bring in $50K depending on the level of prize and level of the fight."
Fortunately, residence of Angelina County aren't having to foot the bill for the seizure and safekeeping of the 300+ birds.
"Bringing this investigative unit in from Dallas is that it doesn't cost the county any money to collect them and house them," said Sheriff Sanches.
At a May 1 hearing, an Angelina Co. Judge rewarded custody of the chickens to the state and the SPCA.