Multiple alleged perps with long rap sheets
LEXINGTON, Kentucky––Restauranteur and would-be cockfighting host Cruz Alejandro “Alex” Mercado-Vazquez, of Maysville, Kentucky, is headed to prison for 15 months for allegedly attempting to bribe sheriff Patrick Boggs of Mason County, Kentucky, to ignore his cockfights.
U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning sentenced Mercado-Vazquez on March 24, 2023, after receiving testimony that Mercado-Vazquez offered Boggs “at least $16,000 to look the other way and tip him about investigations,” summarized Lexington Herald-Leader reporter Bill Estep.
“The case started in 2020,” Estep said. “Mercado-Vazquez offered to pay Boggs 40% to 50% of the gate fees and money from the concession stand to cooperate in the cockfighting venture,” according to prosecutors Kate K. Smith and Andrea Mattingly-Williams in a sentencing memo.
“Sold gamecocks internationally”
“Mercado-Vazquez didn’t give Boggs any money, and was charged before opening his planned cockfighting venue,” Estep added.
In addition, Estep mentioned, “Mercado-Vazquez said he sold fighting roosters internationally, and that he once sold 40 roosters for $250 each to a person in Mexico, according to the prosecution memo.”
Pressure on rural sheriffs from SHARK et al
Neither Showing Animals Respect & Kindness [SHARK], the Humane Farming Association, nor even Animal Wellness Action, among the most media-savvy of animal advocacy groups, were credited with a role in the Mercado-Vazquez bust.
Nonetheless, pressure on rural sheriffs generated by SHARK drone operations in particular, sponsored by the Humane Farming Association, may have had a great deal to do with recent cockfighting-related busts from North Carolina to California.
SHARK founder Steve Hindi can be counted upon to put Mason County sheriff Patrick Boggs’ role in the Mercado-Vazquez case, in particular, in front of Kentucky State Trooper Post 9 captain Randal Surber.
“Kentucky’s Most Corrupt State Police Post” says Steve Hindi
Emailed Hindi to Surber back on October 4, 2021, “Post 9, the post you command, is being publicly designated by SHARK as ‘Kentucky’s Most Corrupt State Police Post.’
“Pike County, the area patrolled by Post 9, includes two of the biggest cockfight pits in the state––the Blackberry pit, and the Hawk’s Nest pit,” Hindi pointed out.
“As you are aware, SHARK has supplied you with extensive information about these criminal operations. This information includes , but is not limited to, aerial images of the cockfight buildings, the times and days of operation, schedules printed by the cockfighters, and the names, images and other information about the people running the cockfights.
The chicken didn’t bother to cross the road
“In spite of having all this information, and in spite of our repeated contact with your personnel, you took no action against these long-running criminal operations, which involve additional criminal activities including illegal gambling, trafficking illegal drugs, weapons and women, tax evasion, etc.”
Nothing at Post 9 appears to have changed in the next year and a half, despite some responses to tips about cockfights from other Kentucky State Trooper posts.
(See Why was there “a long lull in KY law enforcement against cockfighting?”, Kentucky cops ignore alleged cockfight at scene of two notorious murders, and Two cockfights stopped; Steve Hindi credits local opposition.)
“Yet another update on worthless Post 9”
Emailed SHARK to supporters on March 19, 2023, in “Yet another update on worthless Post 9,” following another half day of drone surveillance of Charlie’s Pit:
“We are 2.5 hours into this cockfight and the police have still not taken action! Kentucky State Police Post 9 is so uninterested in doing their jobs that they have yet to send anyone out into the field regarding this illegal cockfight.
“They are more interested in finding out who is calling and where they are calling from, rather than in doing their actual job, which (as a reminder to Kentucky State Police Post 9) would be to shut down illegal activity and arrest those participating. They are giving excuse after excuse, trying to run out the clock to avoid doing their job.”
When cops do their job
The following weekend, Nash County, North Carolina sheriff’s deputies demonstrated what can be accomplished when law enforcement actually responds to calls.
Reported WRAL, in Raleigh, North Carolina, “The[sheriff’s] office got an anonymous tip around 9:45 a.m. about an ongoing cockfighting event in a secluded area. Deputies found a dirt path that led to a small field behind a home.
“Authorities found Bobby Eatmon, stationed at a gate crossing, collecting money from those attending. Attendees were charged a $40 entry fee. The property owner, Richard Perry, and an accomplice, Dustin Collie, were charged along with Eatmon, 40.
“Deputies saw several people running off the property with chickens in their arms when realizing law enforcement had arrived,” WRAL continued. “The sheriff’s office said several small cages were seen across the property next to vehicles. Some cages had chickens and roosters in them.
“Eatmon, Perry, 63, and Collie, 38, were charged with cockfighting, a Class I felony. They were booked into the Nash County Detention Facility.”
Cockfighting & other crime
Many recent cockfighting busts have confirmed what foes of cockfighting have claimed all along: that cockfighters tend to be deeply involved in practically every other form of crime and vice.
One recent case in point broke in early February 2023.
Sheriff’s deputies in Cleveland County, Oklahoma, visited the home of suspected cockfighter Carl Lancaster to serve a warrant on another man they believed was hiding there.
“Deputies instead saw three guns in plain view, illegal for a person [Lawrence] with previous felony convictions,” recounted Brittany Toolis of News 9 in Oklahoma City.
Mushrooms, guns, & stolen vehicles
“Deputies arrested Lancaster that day and returned four days later with a warrant to search the home and property,” Toolis said.
“They found some gun holsters and ammunition,” Toolis said. “The next thing deputies found was a safe. Inside the safe was approximately a half a pound of methamphetamine and approximately four ounces of psychedelic mushrooms.
“Police also found materials used in cockfighting,” along with “approximately four stolen vehicles, with trailers, heavy work equipment, skid steers, and cement mixers, some of them stolen as long as five years ago,” according to Cleveland County sheriff’s lieutenant John Szymanski.
The Lancaster bust, however, did not slow the political momentum behind Oklahoma state legislator Justin Humphrey’s effort to pass state house bill 3283, which would allow individual counties to reduce cockfighting from a felony to a misdemeanor.
The bill has been approved by two Oklahoma legislative committees and was ratified by the Republican state legislative caucus by a margin of 53-20.
Cockfighting has been a felony in Oklahoma since 2002, when state votes approved an initiative not only banning holding or witnessing a cockfight, but also criminalizing keeping gamecocks to be fought, a provision of the law much ignored by gamefowl breeders whose major markets for fighting birds are outside the U.S.
Only six Oklahoma cockfighters sent to prison in 21 years
Wrote Ginnie Graham for Tulsa World on March 11, 2023, “Data from the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council indicates that since cockfighting has been illegal, only six people have gone to prison for the crime. Two who received the maximum 10 years also had [convictions for] other felonies such as grand larceny, sex offenses, and drug dealing.
“No arrests have been made in counties well-known for illegal cockfighting rings, including Atoka [where Humphrey lives], Coal, LeFlore, Marshall and McCurtain.
Follow the money
“An investigative report from Animal Wellness Action found that tens of thousands of fighting birds bred and trained in Oklahoma go to Mexico and the Philippines.”
Gamefowl breeders in turn fund the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission, described on March 10, 2023 by Ben Felder of The Oklahoman as “a political action committee advocating for the loosening of laws around the illegal sport of cockfighting,” which “has donated more than $70,000 in political donations to state lawmakers over the last year.”
Among the recipients, Felder noted, were state senator Greg Treat and Oklahoma County clerk candidate Maressa Treat, his wife.
Career criminal allegedly caught cockfighting in California
Meanwhile in Watsonville, California, “Santa Cruz County authorities busted a cockfighting ring on February 16, 2023,” Max Chun reported for Santa Cruz Lookout, “arresting Brett Kenneth Miller, 58, and 21-year-old Angie Gonzalez. Prosecutor Nicole Ellen Jones told Lookout that authorities took 127 live roosters, 27 dead roosters, 43 hens and 12 dogs from the property. Authorities also found a number of firearms.”
Miller, Chun detailed, “in 1977, at age 13, had his first run-in with local authorities for beating a cat to death. In 1981, he escaped from Monterey County Juvenile Hall but was caught the same night.
“His first crimes as an adult came in 1982, when he was caught cultivating marijuana and carrying a gun in a public place.”
Though “placed in a diversion program, designed to redirect young offenders from the justice system,” Chun continued, Miller “was arrested in 1985 after sheriff’s deputies said they discovered evidence that he was involved in a plot to kidnap the manager of a Wells Fargo bank and to rob the bank. Santa Cruz Superior Court records show that he was convicted of criminal conspiracy, robbery and extortion.
“He was also convicted on those same charges for a number of 1984 burglaries in Redlands. He escaped authorities at least three times, once from a sheriff’s van and twice from the Santa Cruz County Jail.
“He violated his parole in Tulare, where he was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon and resisting arrest. He was sentenced to a maximum of one year in prison, but did not serve the entire term.
“He was accused of two more bank robberies in Merced County,” Chun narrated, “to which he pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to 21 years and 10 months in federal prison.”
Finished Chun, “Miller [now] faces charges of cruelty to an animal, felony possession of firearms and ammunition, and tampering with the identification number of a firearm.”
Watsonville is about 20 miles north of Salinas, in Monterey County, where Showing Animals Respect & Kindness and the Humane Farming Association have documented cockfighting and pressed local authorities to enforce relevant legislation since 2018.