“Operation Angry Birds” Rescues 3,000 Cockfighting Contenders

When you think of a coordinated law enforcement effort that involves simultaneous takedowns of three illegal operations in three different counties, you might assume it involved narcotics or human trafficking or terrorist cells. But New York state’s Operation Angry Birds had a truly fowl target in mind.

The state’s Organized Crime Task Force announced over the weekend that its actions against illegal cockfighting in Queens, Kings (Brooklyn), and Ulster counties had resulted in nine felony arrests and the rescue of some 3,000 roosters that had been destined for bloody battle.

The first raid happened late Saturday night, early Sunday at a cockfight in Queens that had been operating at that location since May 2013. Authorities initially detained 70 people at the event before ultimately charging six attendees who had brought and fought birds with felony Prohibition of Animal Fighting. The OCTF rescued 65 roosters here.

While this was going on in Queens, the OCTF raided a pet store in Brooklyn, rescuing 50 fighting birds and charging the store’s owner with Prohibition of Animal Fighting. In addition to the roosters, investigators found cockfighting paraphernalia — artificial spurs, candle wax, medical adhesive tape, and syringes used to inject performance-enhancing drugs.

The final raid occurred a couple hours up the Thruway at a 90-acre farm in Plattekill, where thousands of roosters were recovered. Authorities say the farm had operated for years under the guise of a live poultry farm, hiding thousands of cages for cockfighting birds within the center of the property to avoid detection by neighbors and law enforcement. The farm’s manager and a farmhand were arrested.

The OCTF had some help with taking down the cockfighters. The ASPCA provided assistance in the investigation and helped with evidence collection as well as removal and sheltering of the seized animals. Then everyone from the Ulster County Sheriff’s office to the NY State Police to the Department of Homeland Security provided surveillance and assistance in the raids.

“Cockfighting is a cruel, abusive and barbaric practice that tortures animals, endangers the health and safety of the public and is known to facilitate other crimes,” NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. “This investigation – one of the largest in U.S. history – illustrates the prevalence of cockfighting in America, its brutal nature and the link to other illegal activities. My office will keep working to hold these individuals accountable, and put an end to illegal cockfighting.”

In New York, cockfighting and possession of a fighting bird at a cockfighting location are felonies, and each charge carries a maximum penalty of four years in jail and a fine of $25,000. Merely attending a cockfight is a misdemeanor and carries a possible sentence of up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.