Operation Grand Champion Yields 12 Convictions and 315 Months in Prison
The last of 12 defendants to be convicted for their roles in multi-state dog fighting conspiracies were sentenced yesterday in federal court in Trenton, New Jersey, the Department of Justice announced today.
Justin Love, 39, of Sewell, New Jersey, was sentenced on July 3, 2019, to serve 54 months in prison. A jury had convicted Love of one felony count of conspiracy to violate the animal fighting prohibitions of the federal Animal Welfare Act, six felony counts of possessing a dog intended for use in an animal fighting venture, and two felony counts of purchasing and receiving a dog intended for use in an animal fighting venture.
Robert A. Elliott, Sr., 50, of Millville, New Jersey, was sentenced on May 30, 2019, to serve 24 months in prison. A jury had convicted Elliott of one felony count of conspiracy to violate the animal fighting prohibitions of the federal Animal Welfare Act, and 12 felony counts of possessing a dog intended for use in an animal fighting venture.
Dajwan Ware, 46, of Fort Wayne, Indiana, was sentenced on May 29, 2019, to serve 24 months in prison. A jury had convicted Ware of one felony count of conspiracy to violate the animal fighting prohibitions of the federal Animal Welfare Act.
“Our justice system will not tolerate the torment and death of animals in the fighting ring, as the sentencings in this case demonstrate,” said Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Although the one chapter represented by this landmark series of cases has now closed, we will continue to place a high priority on pursuing and prosecuting similar illegal animal fighting ventures across the country.”
“Dog fighting exacts a steep toll on animals, local animal shelters, charitable humane organizations, and the taxpayers of New Jersey,” said U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito for the District of New Jersey. “We applaud our local and federal partners who worked so tirelessly to investigate this case and bring the offenders to justice. The message from today’s sentencing hearing is simple: don’t fight dogs in New Jersey, or elsewhere, if you want to avoid a lengthy prison sentence.”
“The provisions of the Animal Welfare Act were designed to protect animals from being used in illegal fighting ventures, which often entail other forms of criminal activity involving drugs, firearms and gambling,” Special Agent in Charge Bethanne M. Dinkins of the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Office of Inspector General said. “Together with the Department of Justice, animal fighting is an investigative priority for USDA-OIG, and we will work with our law enforcement partners to investigate and assist in the criminal prosecution of those who participate in animal fighting ventures.”
“Animal cruelty is a heinous crime that deserves our ultimate condemnation and serious legal consequences for those who engage in it for ‘sport’ and/or profit,” said Brian Michaels, Special Agent in Charge, Homeland Security Investigations, Newark. “As an agency, we are proud to work with our partners to identify, investigate and assist our partners to rout out those who engage in this despicable, inhumane, and illegal practice.”
According to trial evidence and court documents filed in connection with the cases, the defendants and their associates regularly fought dogs – including regularly to the death – and repeatedly trafficked in dogs with other dog fighters across several states so that those dogs could be used in dog fights. They also maintained significant numbers of fighting dogs and substantial dog fighting equipment such as dog treadmills, intravenous drug bags and lines, and “breeding stands” used to immobilize female dogs. At Justin Love’s residence, canine blood was found on the floor, walls, and ceiling of the basement, and Love had tried to set up a “class” for dog fighters to practice administering I.V. fluids to injured dogs, using live dogs as their practice subjects. Another defendant who previously pleaded guilty admitted that following a fight, his dog died in his car on the way home.
Today’s sentencing brings to a close Operation Grand Champion, a multi-jurisdictional federal dog fighting investigation which commenced in 2015 and resulted in the convictions of 12 defendants in four federal districts. The 12 defendants were sentenced to a total of 315 months in prison. The phrase “Grand Champion” is used by dog fighters to refer to a dog with more than five dog fighting “victories.” As a result of the investigation, 113 dogs were rescued and either surrendered or forfeited to the government.
Judge Peter G. Sheridan presided over the trial and imposed the sentences.
The government was represented in the Trenton proceedings by Trial Attorney Ethan Eddy of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen O’Leary of the District of New Jersey. The case was investigated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – Homeland Security Investigations, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.