Newark, New Jersey - Six New Jersey residents were among nine individuals charged in four states for their alleged roles in a dog-fighting network, spanning from New Mexico to New Jersey. The charges stem from a probe by multiple agencies, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

The federal Animal Welfare Act makes it a felony punishable by up to five years in prison to fight dogs or to possess, train, sell, buy, deliver, receive or transport dogs intended for use in dog fighting.

“This barbaric behavior cannot and will not be tolerated here in New Jersey or any state for that matter. HSI will continue our robust effort to ensure no dog or animal is ever placed in this type of criminal network,” said HSI Newark Special Agent in Charge in Terence S. Opiola.

Three criminal complaints charge residents of New Jersey and out-of-state residents for their alleged involvement in a multi-state dog fighting network. The charges include alleged criminal acts related to transporting, delivering, buying, selling, receiving and possessing pit bull-type dogs for dog fighting ventures and conspiring to commit these acts in New Jersey and elsewhere throughout the United States.

From October 2015 through the present, the defendants and their associates participated in dog-fighting ventures in which pit bull-type dogs were set up for matches to maul and attack each other and fight – often until one or both dogs die – and facilitated these ventures by transporting and delivering dogs between dog fighters in various states. The federal undercover investigation revealed that the defendants discussed graphic accounts of prior dog fights they and their associates staged and furthered their dog-fighting ventures through the exchange of information concerning dog-fighting bloodlines, training methods, fighting techniques and the market for buying and selling dogs.

Federal agents found and reviewed evidence of the dog-fighting ventures on some of the defendants’ properties. This included scarred dogs and dogs stacked in crates; dog fighting paraphernalia, such as dog treadmills, “flirt” poles used to build jaw strength and increase aggression and animal pelts. Also found and seen were surgical instruments, syringes and other tools used to mend dogs in lieu of seeking veterinary attention.

This case is part of Operation Grand Champion, a coordinated effort across numerous federal judicial districts to combat organized dog fighting. The phrase “Grand Champion” is used by dog fighters to refer to a dog with more than five dog-fighting “victories.”

“Dog fighting is truly an organized criminal activity, as well as a deplorable trade in the suffering of animals,” said Assistant Attorney General Cruden. “This case marks the beginning of a coordinated effort at the Department of Justice to meet organized dog fighting head-on with a strategic, aggressive federal response.”

Operation Grand Champion is a continuing investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of the Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge William G. Squires; HSI and the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Timothy Gallagher, in coordination with the Department of Justice.

The Humane Society of the United States is assisting with the care of the dogs seized by federal law enforcement.

The charges are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. If convicted, each defendant faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine per count of animal fighting charges.