Verbena, Alabama Cockfighting Family Pleads Guilty to Federal Charges | New
Montgomery, Alabama, Aug. 11, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Animal Wellness Action (AWA) and the Animal Wellness Foundation (AWF) have urged federal court to review the United States criminal case against Brent Easterling, William Easterling and five other family members based in Verbena, Ala. to mete out prison sentences and six-figure fines to the perpetrators. Last year, 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 charged the Orientals with conspiracy to violate federal anti-animal laws, including operating fight pits on their properties, owning thousands of fighting animals, transporting these animals around the world for fighting and trafficking in cockfighting instruments (Federal Case 2:21-cr-00455-MHT-SMD).
The United States filed additional documents which included plea deals from the Easterlings, admitting their involvement in a series of illegal animal control activities. Now, the federal judge presiding over the case will hand down a sentence as part of the proceedings. The USDA’s Office of Inspector General and Homeland Security Investigations thoroughly investigated the Easterlings before federal charges were filed against them. A sentencing hearing for these three defendants will take place on September 29 and for the other four defendants, including Brent Easterling, on November 8.
Early June 2020, Animal Wellness Action and AWF published a detailed report identifying Brent Easterling as a major trafficker of combat animals and instruments. The groups presented extensive evidence to the United States about his involvement and shared a file on him with the U.S. Attorney for the Mid-District of Alabama and other federal law enforcement officials. Animal Wellness Action noted that the Easterlings have earned hundreds of thousands of dollars, possibly millions, from the illicit sale of fighting birds. Brent Easterling has frequently transported his birds to Mexico, which is a major destination for fighting animals bred in the United States and has participated in fight derbies all over the world, in order to then market the birds he has bred and trained to be cut down in combat.
“It is essential that the federal court impose substantial prison sentences and fines on the Easterlings for their central role in a complex, blatantly illegal and multi-million dollar animal fighting syndicate that spanned the globe” , said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action. . “The other major cockfighting networks in the United States are watching and hoping they won’t be next if the federal government punishes them in a manner consistent with the strict penalties provided by law.”
“The rule of law matters, including when it applies to cruelty to animals,” said Marty Irby, executive director of Animal Wellness Action and an Alabam native of Mobile. “Given that Yellowhammer State’s anti-cockfighting law requires fewer penalties than a parking ticket, it is critical that the federal government step in and bring justice. The action of the US Department of Justice in saying that it will not tolerate animal fighting operations will reverberate from the shores of Orange Beach to Lookout Mountain and everywhere in between.”
Indeed, while the Easterlings were one of America’s largest cockfighting syndicates, they are part of a much larger network of animal fighters in Alabama and across the United States who have made of America the breeding ground for the global cockfighting industry. While some are destined for fight pits in the United States, hundreds of thousands of birds travel from cockfighting farms here to dozens of countries around the world. The June 2020 AWA reported on several Alabamians, including Jerry Adkins of Slick Lizard Farms, who told a Filipino TV broadcaster that he sells 6,000 birds a year in Mexico alone. With some birds fetching up to $2,000 each, these illegal deals could generate millions in gross sales.
AWA obtained a video of Brent Easterling interviewing a Philippines-based cockfighting channel, BNTV, talking about his fighting birds and marketing them to a global audience. AWA also obtained BNTV videos where 10 other Alabama cockfighters boast about their fighting birds’ prowess. BNTV has made 50 videos with US-based cockfighters in recent years, and 11 of them were from Alabama-based cockfighters.
Under current federal law, it is a crime to:
· Sponsoring or knowingly exhibiting an animal in a combat enterprise;
· Knowingly participating in an animal fighting business or knowingly causing a person under the age of 16 to participate in an animal fighting business;
· Buying, selling, possessing, training, transporting, delivering or knowingly receiving any animal for the purpose of engaging the animal in an animal fighting enterprise;
Knowingly using the U.S. Postal Service mail service, or any “writing, wire, broadcast, or other form of communication in, or using any facility of, interstate commerce”, to advertise any animal for use in an animal fighting business, or to advertise a knife, gaff or other sharp instrument designed to be attached to a bird’s leg for us in an animal fighting business , or to promote or otherwise foster an animal fighting business, except outside the United States;
Knowingly sell, buy, transport or deliver in interstate or foreign commerce “a knife, gaff or other sharp instrument” designed or intended for attachment to a bird’s leg for us in an animal fighting business .
Penalties for each violation of any of these provisions allow for a maximum of 5 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 for perpetrators, except for an adult participating in an animal fighting business. The penalties for an adult present are 1 year in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Animal welfare action is a Washington, DC-based 501(c)(4) organization whose mission is to help animals by promoting legal standards prohibiting cruelty. We champion causes that alleviate the suffering of pets, farm animals and wildlife. We advocate for policies to end dog and cock fighting and other forms of malevolent cruelty and to combat factory farming and other systemic forms of animal exploitation. To prevent cruelty, we encourage good public policies and work to enforce those policies. To enact good laws, we need to elect good legislators, and that’s why we remind voters which candidates care about our problems and which don’t. We believe that helping animals helps us all.
Marty Irby Animal Wellness Action 202-821-5686 [email protected]