Over the past week, federal authorities have targeted suspected cockfighting operations in eastern Kentucky, with at least one suspected cockfighting raid and federal indictments against 17 people accused of being involved in cockfighting.
Among those indicted by a federal grand jury in London on February 24 is a Manchester man accused of staging fights at a location in Pike County identified as the “Blackberry Chicken Pit”, located in Ransom.
According to court documents, Timothy Wayne Sizemore, 42, of Ky. 11, Manchester, organized and sponsored cockfights at the Blackberry facility, which consisted of stadium-style seating, storage areas for storing live birds, a main enclosed cockfighting pit, a concession stand, an area for weighing birds, an animal fighting props sales room, an announcer’s booth, and four additional side pits, also known as drag pits, for fighting.
Sizemore and others, according to the indictment, organized the collection of admission fees, sold concessions, merchandise and sharp instruments for use in animal fighting to people who participated in and witnessed the animal fighting businesses. The Blackberry business, according to the indictment, was maintained with extensive security operations, including two checkpoints for attendees.
Sizemore, the indictment, was responsible for organizing the fights and keeping track of all aspects, including wins and losses, while the co-conspirators collected admission fees, sold concessions and merchandise and maintained trailers that could be rented out to people who participated in cockfighting.
As part of the conspiracy, according to the indictment, Sizemore and others distributed publicity materials about the fights, including the fight schedule, “using an instrument of interstate commerce.”
The indictment states that on April 17, 2021, Sizemore hosted an event at Blackberry that included 93 entries. On June 19, 2021, according to the indictment, Sizemore organized and managed a Blackberry cockfighting event that included 52 entries, a purse of approximately $42,000, and numerous people under the age of 16 in attendance.
For this, and his alleged assistance at a venue called Riverside Game Club, located in Clay County, Sizemore was charged with two counts of conspiracy to defraud the United States and two counts of exploiting an animal fighting business.
Each of the charges, according to the indictment, carries a maximum prison sentence of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release, if Sizemore is convicted.
According to court documents, federal animal welfare law prohibits sponsoring or exhibiting an animal in an animal fighting business. The law, according to court documents, also prohibits anyone from possessing, training, selling, buying, transporting, delivering, or receiving an animal for the purpose of involving it in a combat enterprise. animals.
In addition, according to the documents, the law prohibits “the use of any instrument of interstate commerce for commercial purposes for the purpose of advertising an animal for use in an animal control business or to promote or advance a animal control company.
It is also illegal, according to documents, to participate in an animal fighting business or to cause anyone under the age of 16 to participate in an animal fighting business.
Kentucky law, according to the documents, makes it illegal to participate in animal fighting.
In a statement released March 2, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky Carlton S. Shier IV said his office is committed to enforcing animal cruelty laws.
“Animal fighting businesses are cruel and illegal,” Shier said in the statement. “We are committed to enforcing federal animal cruelty laws and I want to commend the efforts of our law enforcement partners, whose dedication and effort led to these indictments for the Eastern District of Kentucky”
The special agent in charge of the FBI Louisville office, Jodi Cohen, called the indictments “a blow” to cockfighting.
“The gruesome ritual of animal fighting simply has no place in a civilized society. Animal cruelty, however, is only one criminal aspect surrounding this barbaric activity. illegal gambling or attempts to bribe our officials, the criminal enterprise surrounding cockfighting operations will not be tolerated,” Cohen said. “Through exceptional cooperation and hard work, the FBI and its state and federal law enforcement partners have dealt a serious blow to cockfighting and a host of other criminal activities in the Eastern District of Kentucky.”
Letcher County cockfighting pit allegedly raided
The Whitesburg-based Mountain Eagle newspaper reported in its March 2 edition that an incident on February 26 came to public attention due to the presence of a large number of law enforcement officers. order, along with law enforcement vehicles, a mobile network cell phone tower, and other connected personnel and equipment, was a raid on a cockfighting pit in Letcher County.
On February 26, Kentucky State Police told the media, including Appalachian newspapers, and the public that the law enforcement presence was part of a training exercise.
However, The Mountain Eagle was told differently.
The newspaper reported in its March 2 edition that Senior Special Agent Tim Beam of the Louisville Field Office, while not explicitly denying that the FBI had been involved in telling the public that the operation was an exercise in training, asked, “Who said it was a ‘training exercise?’
“What I can confirm is that the FBI Louisville, with support from the Kentucky State Police, the United States Department of Agriculture and the United States Marshals Service, conducted judicially authorized activity on Saturday. in Letcher County targeting an illegal cockfighting operation,” Beam said in an email. .
Additionally, The Mountain Eagle reported, a man who identified himself as the owner posted a number of videos on social media criticizing the raid as a waste of taxpayers’ money, and those who reported the fights chickens like “rats that belong in the sewer with their fucking necks cut off.
Blackberry Chicken Pit isn’t the only location targeted
In addition to Sizemore, Riverside Game Club owner Millard Oscar Hubbard has been charged in connection with the venue investigation, along with three other people – Justin Smith, age and address not available, and Beachel Collett and Lester Collett, aged and addresses not available, who are both identified in the indictment as having worked for the Clay County Sheriff’s Office on multiple occasions.
Another indictment, this one issued in the U.S. District Court in Frankfurt, names three people – Walter H. Mitchell, Jerrard D. McVey and Linda A. McVey, ages and addresses not available – as being involved in the operation of a cockfighting venue called the Valley, located in Nicolas and Fleming counties. The three are charged with criminal association.
A third indictment, also handed down Feb. 24 in London, names eight people — Rickie D. Johnson, Jacklyn R. Johnson, Harold “Fuzzy” Hale, Orville D. Asher, Dallas M. Cope, Hiram B. Creech Jr. ., Bradley Cye Rose and Joshua W. Westerfield, as being involved in a cockfighting business called Bald Rock and located in Laurel County. The eight are charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States or to be involved in an animal control business.
The indictment alleges that Rickie Johnson and Jacklyn Johnson operated this facility. According to the indictment, Rickie Johnson leased the property where Bald Rock is located to Hall, who had previously operated a cockfighting business at the same location, called “Big H’s” until March 2020. Rickie Johnson had previously helped operate a cockfighting business called “CJ’s Cockfighting Pit”, which was located in London.
According to court documents, this isn’t the first time Rickie Johnson and Jacklyn Johnson have gotten into legal trouble for allegedly being involved in cockfighting.
According to Laurel District Court documents, on July 10, 2021, Kentucky State Police Trooper Jason McCowan was dispatched to the Bald Rock site for an animal cruelty report.
Upon arrival, McCowan wrote in court documents, he observed a large number of vehicles parked around a large metal building at the Bald Rock site, located at the end of Loretta Lane in London.
McCowan wrote that he could see several people inside, some carrying roosters, as he arrived. The officer wrote that he spoke with Rickie Johnson, who told him he rented the property and was in charge of the activities.
Inside, McCowan wrote, he saw several subjects inside preparing birds for a match, and he observed that the roosters had metal spurs. Rickie Johnson, according to the citation, told the soldier he was in possession of the gate money and entrance money that had been paid.
McCowan wrote that Jacklyn Johnson, who was identified in the federal indictment as having been repeatedly employed by the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office, retrieved the money from her purse and smuggled it. given to Rickie Johnson.
McCowan, according to court documents, charged Rickie Johnson with second degree animal cruelty and second degree gambling promotion, while he charged Jacklyn Johnson with second degree gambling promotion.
Several other people, including some named in Bald Rock’s indictment, were also charged by McCowan at the time with second-degree animal cruelty.
The grand jury also indicted Cruz Alejandro Mercado-Vazquez, 43, of Maysville, with two counts of attempted bribery and one count of possession of animals for the purpose of involving animals in a crime fighting enterprise. animals.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office statement, the indictment alleges that on two occasions Mercado-Vaquez offered a bribe of more than $5,000 to the Mason County Sheriff, to influence the Sheriff. as part of an animal control project. The indictment further alleges that Mercado-Vazquez knowingly purchased, possessed and trained roosters to participate in an animal fighting business.