Exported gamecocks around the world
MONTGOMERY, Alabama––Cockfighters and gamefowl breeders Brent Easterling, William Easterling, and five other members of their family on August 11, 2022 pleaded guilty to federal and state of Alabama charges filed in 2021 as “conspiracy to violate federal anti-animal fighting laws, including operating fighting pits on their properties, possessing thousands of fighting animals, transporting those animals across the globe for fighting, and trafficking in cockfighting implements,” summarized Animal Wellness Action spokesperson Marty Irby in a media release urging that the Easterlings receive “prison time and six-figure fines” at their forthcoming sentencing hearings.
Sentencing hearings for three defendants, believed to be Billy, Tyler, and William Easterling, are scheduled for September 29, 2022. Billy, Tyler, and William Easterling allegedly operate the Swift Creek Game Farm in Verbena, Alabama.
The sentencing hearing for Brent Easterling, the alleged ringleader, operator of the L&L Game Farm, also in Verbena, Alabama, is set for November 8, 2022, along with sentencing hearings for three other defendants.
What did they do?
The federal laws allegedly broken by the Easterlings, adopted as amendments to the Animal Welfare Act, prohibit knowingly sponsoring or exhibiting any animal in a fighting venture; knowingly attend an animal fighting venture; knowingly causing an individual under age of 16 to attend an animal fight; and knowingly buying, selling, possessing, training, transporting, delivering, or receiving any animal for purposes of having the animal participate in an animal fight.
A loophole in the U.S. federal law allows Americans to sell gamefowl and cockfighting paraphernalia abroad, so long as the actual “animal fighting venture” is “performed outside the U.S.”
But the charges indicate that the Easterlings were not able to operate through the relatively narrow loophole without violating other Animal Welfare Act provisions.
“Penalties for each violation of any one of these provisions allows for a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for perpetrators, except for an adult attending an animal fighting venture. Penalties for an adult in attendance are one year in prison and a $5,000 fine,” said Irby.
The Easterlings’ “guilty” pleas, entered as part of an anticipated plea bargain meant by the defendants to obtain lesser sentences, represent a triumph for both Animal Wellness Action and Showing Animals Respect & Kindness, whose separate but overlapping investigations helped to bring the Easterling family to a semblance of legal justice.
“In early June 2020, “ recounted Irby, “Animal Wellness Action released a detailed report identifying Brent Easterling as a major trafficker in fighting animals and implements,” and “presented extensive evidence to the United States about his involvement [in cockfighting] and shared a dossier on him with the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama and with other federal law enforcement officials.
“Other cockfighting networks are watching”
“Animal Wellness Action noted that the Easterlings made hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps millions, on the illicit sale of fighting birds,” Irby said. “Brent Easterling frequently transported his birds to Mexico, which is a major destination for U.S.-reared fighting animals, and participated in fighting derbies all over the world.”
Crowed Animal Wellness Action president Wayne Pacelle, who campaigned for the passage of federal anti-animal fighting legislation as president of the Humane Society of the U.S. from 2004 to 2018, “The other big cockfighting networks in the U.S. are watching and hoping that they won’t be next if the federal government punishes them in a way that is aligned with the strict penalties provided for in the law.”
Several of these networks, in Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, have been targets of both undercover and drone surveillance by Showing Animals Respect & Kindness for more than three years.
“Breeders for the global cockfighting industry”
Explained Irby, “While the Easterlings were one of America’s biggest cockfighting syndicates, they are part of a far larger network of animal fighters in Alabama and throughout the United States that have made America the breeding ground for the global cockfighting industry. Hundreds of thousands of birds move from cockfighting farms here to dozens of nations throughout the world.”
For example, Irby mentioned, “Jerry Adkins of Slick Lizard Farms,” located in Nauvoo, Alabama, “told a Filipino television broadcaster that he sells 6,000 birds a year to Mexico alone.”
Of 50 cockfighting videos broadcast by the Philippine-based cockfighting channel BNTV, Irby alleged, eleven featured Alabama-based cockfighters.
Alleged gamecock breeders hit with restraining order
The Easterlings’ guilty pleas came 14 months after both Showing Animals Respect & Kindness and Animal Wellness Action celebrated a June 2021 restraining order issued against Brent Easterling’s L&L Game Farm near Verbena, Alabama, by U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson.
That order, reported William Thornton for Birmingham Real Time News, covered “about 2,400 ‘roosters, hens, young chickens, and unhatched chickens’ at three locations in Chilton County.
“According to the document requesting the restraining order,” Thornton said, “U.S. Department of Agriculture investigators are looking into the activities of three members of a Chilton County family they believe are involved in cockfighting and gambling operations which violate the federal Animal Welfare Act. The order seeks to restrain the breeding population, saying that the chickens were found during the execution of a search warrant on June 21, 2021. The documents argue the birds should be ‘restrained in place,’ as moving them and isolating them would be cruel.”
Different paths to suspect
Continued Thornton, “According to the 10-page document requesting the restraining order, investigators say one of the men,” believed to be Brent Easterling himself, sold “birds and cockfighting implements, such as knives and boots,” via social media.
“The document also alleges,” wrote Thornton, that “one of the men bragged in an audio message, with the sound of roosters crowing in the background, that he got 50% of any money won ‘with my roosters.’ He later bragged in social media messages of having large ‘pots’ totaling $125,000 and $200,000 in his house, according to the documents.”
Showing Animals Respect & Kindness and Animal Wellness Action followed completely different paths to uncovering allegedly illegal aspects of the Easterling family gamefowl business.
Showing Animals Respect & Kindness [SHARK], as ANIMALS 24-7 reported in August 2020, covertly monitored a “Call To Action BBQ” hosted and organized by Easterling after SHARK, funded by the Humane Farming Association, “targeted three major illegal cockfighting operations in Kentucky,” SHARK summarized in a July 27, 2020 media release.
Animal Wellness Action followed paper trail
The Animal Wellness Action investigation has been based on monitoring the paper trail associated with gamefowl exports, beginning by monitoring exports to Guam, a U.S. territory where cockfighting is now illegal.
“Brent Easterling was not, according to our records, shipping birds to Guam,” said Animal Wellness Action in June 2021, “but he was moving them to Mexico, the Philippines, and to other states, including New Mexico.”