New York City cockfighting ring busted; 3,000 birds rescued

Sandra Bookman reports from Queens
February 10, 2014 2:18:24 PM PST
More than 3,000 birds were rescued in a three-county cockfighting takedown this weekend that resulted in nine felony arrests, according to the state Attorney General's Office.

Law enforcement officials say they raided a cockfighting event in progress, taking control of 65 fighting birds and arresting 70 people, including Orlando Bautista who neighbors insist ran a simple real estate business.

"It seems to me he's a nice guy. All the time he waves his hand, I say hello - basically that's all," said business owner Bedarul Istam.

Bautista is now one of nine people facing felony charges in what law enforcement officials are calling the largest cockfighting bust in New York State history. Raids over the weekend included a pet shop in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where 50 fighting birds were reportedly found in a basement.

In addition, a 90-acre property in Plattekill, Ulster County that was previously registered as a poultry farm, investigators say recently served as a breeding ground for the cockfighting ring. The ASPCA, which is still at the farm Monday removing the birds, says this was a long-running and profitable operation.

"I would guess having just toured the facility and having seen the Queens location, you know, 10-20 years," said ASPCA President and CEO Matt Bershadker.

So far, at least 6,000 birds and counting have been rescued from what is being described as the most brutal conditions.

Authorities said the roosters had razor-sharp gaffs attached in place of their spurs and were locked in small pens to be wagered on. The ASPCA has established a temporary shelter to house and care for the animals.

In New York, cockfighting and possession of a fighting bird at a cockfighting location are felonies and each charge carries a maximum penalty of four years in jail and a fine of up to $25,000, according to the attorney general's office. Paying to attend one of these events is a misdemeanor and carries a possible sentence of up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.