The interstate operation extended from Long Island, including Uniondale and Hempstead in Nassau County, to New York City, Connecticut and Massachusetts, with detectives infiltrating the ring to bring it down from the inside.
"The defendants in this case talked about torturing these animals, talking about how they've mistreated their dogs for weeks," Sini said.
Sini said investigators have evidence of the defendants talking about abuse that included electrocution of dogs that lost and the immobilization of female dogs for breeding purposes.
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Authorities displayed cash, kennels and treadmills that were used in the ring, and steroids were also seized.
"We will not tolerate these types of crimes, crimes that injure and in many cases,result in the death of vulnerable animals," Sini said. "Many of us have dogs as pets in our homes, and we love them as another family member. This case is about how a criminal network bred dogs, tortured them, and put them in serious harm's way just to make a buck."
The suspects all pleaded not guilty and denied the charges, claiming they were simply breeders, and they were released on their own recognizance.
They were identified as:
--Paul Whelan, 57, of Shirley
--Edward Hodge, 74, of Uniondale
--Darrel Madison, 44, of Mastic
--Jeffrey Spencer, 65, of Wyandanch
--Charles Macwhinnie, 52, of Hampton Bays
--William Ashton, a/k/a "Mr. Bill," 80, of Mastic
--Joseph Owens, 49, of Amityville
--Jontae Barker, 32, of Bay Shore
--Jerome Chapman, 39, of Bay Shore
--Timothy Eury, 43, of Hempstead
"He has not been involved in any of the conduct that he's being charged with," Macwhinnie's attorney, Edward Sapone, said. "He looks forward to his day in court."
The defendants would allegedly begin setting dogs up in practice fights, known as "rolls," when they were as young as approximately six months old. Through adulthood, the dogs were allegedly frequently subjected to inadequate living conditions and improper sustenance as well as rigorous training programs designed to increase their tenacity, agility, and bite strength, officials said.
When the dogs were determined to be ready to fight, a "broker" would orchestrate matchups based on the dogs' weight and sex, among other factors. Dogfighters looking to participate in a fight, also known as a "match," would pay a buy-in fee known as a "forfeit" to have their dog entered into the fight, and the winning dogfighter would receive all of the proceeds.
The defendants would also allegedly place bets on the outcomes of fights, which are violent events that can last several hours long and result in serious physical injuries or death for the participating dogs. The investigation revealed evidence that the defendants would allegedly engage in unlicensed medical treatment for injured dogs, as well as killing dogs that were either severely injured or had underperformed in fights.
The defendants also allegedly made money by selling puppies descended from dogs who were successful in past fights and were considered to have strong "bloodlines."
Officials said 81 dogs, primarily pit bulls, were seized on Long Island and eight others in Connecticut.
They were moved to shelters by the ASPCA and are receiving medical care, but because the suspects have not given up their rights as owners, the animals cannot be adopted until that happens or at the end of the criminal case.
Prosecutors say many of them had injuries consistent with dog fighting, like scabs and broken teeth.
"The rescued dogs are now receiving specialized care with the hopes that many will be able to be adopted into safe and loving homes and become the happy and trusting animals they were always meant to be," said Elizabeth Brandler, with the ASPCA.
Sini also announced that his office was empaneling of a special grand jury to investigate crimes against animals and to make legislative recommendations to combat animal cruelty.
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Attorney Lindsay Henry is representing Barker. He said Barker was not involved in dog fighting and that police seized his family's dog.
Attorney Robert Macedonio is representing Owens and Spencer.
"They were not animal fighting," Macedonio said. "They were not trained animals to fight. We are going to vigorously defend the charges."
Hodge and Chapman would not comment to Eyewitness News reporter Kristin Thorne about the charges.
Anyone who suspects dog fighting is taking place in their area can call 631-382-7722 in Suffolk County and 516-843-7722 in Nassau County.
A reward of up to $5,000 is offered for tips that lead to convictions.
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