The arrests announced Monday by federal, state and local officials stemmed from raids Friday on homes in Alabama and Georgia and the seizure of more than $500,000 in cash that investigators believe was tied to illegal gambling on dogfights.
“I believe if Dante were alive today and rewriting the Inferno that the lowest places in hell would be reserved for those who commit cruelty to our animals and to our children,” U.S. Attorney George Beck said at a news conference.
Court-appointed attorneys for some of the defendants said they plan to plead not guilty Wednesday.
The defendants are charged with conspiring to promote and sponsor dogfights and arranging for dogs to be at the fights in several Alabama counties and in Holly Springs, Miss., between 2009 and 2013.
Most of the defendants also are charged with conducting an illegal gambling business. In an indictment returned by a federal grand jury in Opelika, one defendant is accused of winning $35,000 at a fight in Waverly in August 2011. Two others were stopped by officers with $12,000 in cash after attending a dogfight at a bar in Macon County in February 2012, the indictment said.
Federal, state and local officials simultaneously served search warrants Friday to make arrests and seize dogs in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.
Officials said some pit bulls were so malnourished their ribs were sticking out and others had wounds that required emergency care.
“Those animals can’t speak like you and I,” Coffee County Sheriff David Sutton said. “We chose to speak for them, and I believe we sent a message out.”
Officials with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society of the United States said the organizations are caring for the animals, which will have to be kept as evidence while the case progresses. They hope to retrain the dogs and get them new homes.
Charged are: Donnie Anderson, 48, of Auburn; Demontt Allen, 37, of Houston, Texas; William Antone Edwards, 42, of Brantley; William Oneil Edwards, 39, of Elba; Robin Stinson, 40, of Elba; Michael Martin, 54, of Auburn; Lawrence Watford, 35, of Adel, Ga.; Ricky Van Le, 24, of Biloxi, Miss.; David Sellers, 52, of Opelika; Sandy Brown, 47, of Brownsville; Carlton Tippens, of Georgia; and Irkis Forest, of Theodore. More arrests are expected.