MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A four-year dog fighting investigation that stretched from Texas to Georgia began to yield results Monday when four people entered the first guilty pleas in the case.
The four were among 10 defendants scheduled to plead guilty in hearings this week in Montgomery. While the guilty pleas were being taken in Montgomery, prosecutors announced the arrest of a 15th suspect, Edward Duckworth of suburban Atlanta, on a conspiracy charge.
Investigators seized more than 400 pit bulls during raids last year in Alabama and Georgia. Animal welfare groups call it the second largest seizure in a dog fighting investigation in the United State.
"It's a horrendous case," federal prosecutor Clark Morris said after watching the first guilty pleas Monday.
She said it has helped raise awareness of the illegal activity. She noted that tougher federal laws on animal fighting were recently enacted by Congress, and some of the defendants would have faced additional charges if a new law against taking a minor to a dog fight had been in effect during the investigation.
Chris Schindler, manager of animal fighting investigations for the Human Society of the United States, said, "We are happy to see the successful outcome from what was a huge collaborative effort." He said it sends a message that law enforcement takes animal fighting seriously.
On Monday, Michael Martin of Auburn, Ala., Jennifer McDonald of Fairburn, Ga., Robin Stinson of Elba, Ala., and Sandy Brown of Brownsville, Ala., appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Coody to plead guilty.
Martin pleaded guilty to conspiracy and being a felon in possession of a firearm. McDonald and Stinson pleaded guilty to conspiracy. Brown admitted sponsoring a dog fight.
Martin, 56, acknowledged delivering dogs for dog fights in Russell County in January 2012 and April 2013. His firearms charge stemmed from investigators searching his home and finding three pistols, a rifle and two shotguns. He was not supposed to have any guns because he pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine in Lee County in 1996.
Stinson, 41, admitted training dogs for dog fights.
Court records show investigators found 40 dogs at Martin's property and 24 at Stinson's.
McDonald, 36, admitted training and transporting a dog across state lines for a fight in Lee County.
Brown, 48, acknowledged sponsoring a dog fight at his Sandcastle Bar in Macon County in February 2012.
Conspiracy and sponsoring a dog fight carry a sentence of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The firearms charge can bring up to 10 years and a $250,000 fine. No sentencing date has been set.