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From 30 January 2005 Issue

Video Law Holds Up In First Test Against Animal Fighter

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2005:

PITTSBURGH--Reaching a unanimous verdict in only 45 minutes, a federal jury on January 13, 2005 convicted video distributor Robert Stevens of three counts of selling depictions of illegal cruelty to animals across state lines.

The case was the first court test of 1999 legislation introduced by Representative Elton Gallegly (R-California). U.S. Senior District Judge Alan N. Bloch rejected federal public defender Michael Novara's contentions that the law violated Stevens' First Amendment right to freedom of expression, and that it was misapplied because the law was introduced to address "wanton cruelty to animals designed to appeal to a prurient interest in sex."

The law prohibits the interstate distribution of videos or films depicting illegal cruelty to animals, if they are without "serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical, or art value."

Stevens, 64, of Pittsville, Virginia, in 2003 sold two videotapes of dogfights and one video of a "hog/dog rodeo" to investigators for the Pennsylvania State Police and USDA Office of the Inspector General. Stevens advertised the videos for sale in the Sporting Dog Journal, whose publisher James Fricchione, 34, was convicted in March 2004 of six felonies and five misdemeanors for allegedly promoting dogfights.

Setting Stevens' sentencing for April 21, Bloch ordered him to surrender to the court any pit bull terriers he owns by January 24, and to refrain from any involvement in training, breeding, selling or otherwise dealing with pit bulls. Stevens also may not associate with any other persons involved in such activities, and may not sell any equipment that might be used to train dogs to fight.

Brian Haaser, USDA Office of the Inspector General chief special agent-in-charge of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast Region, said in a prepared statement that the "landmark investigation and conviction will open the doors" to further prosecutions of alleged dogfighters based on seizures of videotaped evidence.

The Gallegly bill was introduced in response to public outrage over Internet sales of "crush videos, "depicting animals being crushed to death by scantily clad women and transvestites. The traffic came to light when British Customs in mid-1997 intercepted several videos mailed by one "Jeff Vilencia" of "Squish Productions" in California.

British Customs took the videos to Martin Daly of the Royal SPCA. Daly eventually enlisted investigative help from Cassandra Brown of the London Sunday Telegraph.

Unaware of that case, then-America Online "Animals & Society" host Susan Roghair, now producer of Animal Rights Online, independently discovered several web sites which promoted and sold crush videos. Roghair in October 1997 sought help from ANIMAL PEOPLE, PETA, AnimalTalk host Dick Weevil, and Ohio animal rights attorney Shawn Thomas--who turned out to be pursuing a parallel investigation of his own, after finding some of the same web sites.

On October 6, 1997, at Thomas' request, ANIMAL PEOPLE postponed publishing an article about crush videos to avoid jeopardizing the investigation.

Cassandra Brown in November 1997 scooped ANIMAL PEOPLE. Learning thereby of the British investigation, ANIMAL PEOPLE introduced the British and American investigators by e-mail.

Unknown to any other investigators, the Suffolk County SPCA was separately closing in on crush video producer Thomas Capriola, 30, of Islip Terrace, Long Island. Two days after Capriola was arrested in May 1998, ANIMAL PEOPLE introduced the Suffolk County SPCA investigators to Daly, Thomas, and Roghair.

Capriola in December 2000 pleaded guilty to misdemeanor cruelty to animals and fifth-degree possession of marijuana, and was sentenced to serve 280 hours of community service with three years on probation.

The original investigation brought the August 1999 arrests and eventual plea bargain convictions of "crush video" star Diane Aileen Chaffin, 35, of La Puente, California, and producer Gary Lynn Thomason, 48, of Anaheim. Each drew a year in jail and three years on probation.

Convicted in Britain were Craig Chapman, 27, Christine Besford, 26, Sarah Goode, 22, and Tharaza Smallwood, 22. Chapman was in May 2002 sentenced to serve two years in jail. The three women drew four months each. All four defendants were also fined and banned for life from keeping pets.

Following the money

Dogfighting, hog/dog rodeo, cockfighting, and the sale of videotapes of fights and training methods are all magnitudes larger than the crush video industry. Affirmation that animal fighting can be attacked by prosecuting the video distributors allows law enforcement to strike at a revenue source for animal fighters which is much more vulnerable to interception than either betting on fights or the cash-only commerce in animals.

Intercepting either gambling or animal transactions requires putting an undercover investigator inside the activity, among people who are typically also involved in drug trafficking and other types of violent crime. This is slow and high-risk work.
Intercepting videos by contrast involves no more risk than routine inspection of materials transmitted by post and other common carriers.

High stakes

Confirmation of the high stakes involved in animal fighting came on January 19, 2005 in Columbia, South Carolina, when former state agriculture commissioner Charles Sharpe, 66, formally resigned, six months after he was suspended, and pleaded guilty to accepting a bribe of $10,000 from the South Carolina Gamefowl Management Association, to protect a cockfighting venue near Spartanburg.

Sharpe was originally charged with accepting as much as $26,000 in 2001-2002. A November 2003 raid on the site seized $50,000 in cash and brought citations against 118 persons found at a cockfight. South Carolina 6th Circuit Judge Kenneth Goode on January 19, 2005 upped the ante for prosecuting an alleged hog/dog ring by ordering that 95 dogs seized on December 17, 2004 be kept alive, at least until a court date is set. The order will significantly increase the cost of pursuing the case.

A conviction could oblige the defendants to make restitution, but the most recent precedent was not encouraging, as 8th Circuit Judge Wyatt T. Saunders on December 17, 2004 reduced from $150,000 to $80,000 the restitution assessed to convicted dogfighter David Ray Tant for the care of 49 pit bull terriers between his April 2004 arrest and his November 2004 plea bargain sentencing.

Tant, 57, was sent to prison for 40 years. He can get five years off for paying $20,000, and 10 years off for paying the full amount, but may never pay any of it, since most of his assets have been seized by the Internal Revenue Service.

The South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division and USDA had placed the dogs seized on December 17 in custody of Chester County Animal Control and representatives of the Humane Society of the U.S.

Fifteen hogs seized in the raid were left on the premises of suspects Arthur Parker Sr., 47, his son Arthur Parker Jr., 20, and Mary Evans Luther, 50, all of the same address in Fort Lawn. All three were charged with felony animal fighting and baiting.

Arrested later were Thomas Gene Guffey, 29, of Huddelston, Virginia, for allegedly attending an illegal animal fight, and Chester County animal control director Vicky Stultz Land, 47.

Land was charged with animal fighting and baiting and misconduct in office. State Law Enforcement Division agent Jack Rushing III testified at Land's arraignment that investigators became aware of her involvement in March and April of 2004.

Land's attorney, Leland Greeley, acknowledged that on September 11, 2004 Land attended a hog/dog contest with five officers of the Chester County sheriff's office, wrote Denyse Clark of the Rock Hill Herald, but Greeley contended that she was there in the line of duty.

Land was videotaped attending a hog/dog contest on October 16, 2004, Rushing told the court.

Three-state raids

The South Carolina arrests were part of a three-state coordinated crackdown on hog/dogging.

Richard Lee Landers Jr. and his wife Shina Giles Landers, of Warrior, Alabama, were charged with misdemeanor cruelty. Seven dogs were seized from them. They allegedly operated a web site that promoted hog/dog rodeo.

James M. Curry and Jodi Marie Curry-Liesburg, of Phoenix, Arizona, were reportedly charged with child abuse, cruelty to animals, and drug and weapons offenses. Yavapai County Child Protective Services took three children into custody. Thirty-two Russian boars and 17 dogs were seized.

On January 18, Mississippi state senator Sidney Albritton (R-Picayune) and visiting Louisiana state representative Warren Triche (D-Thibodaux) urged fellow legislators to join Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana in specifically banning hog/dog rodeo. Albritton has introduced a bill, state SB 2354, modeled on the Louisiana hog/dog rodeo ban authored by Triche in 2004.
--
Merritt Clifton
Editor, ANIMAL PEOPLE
P.O. Box 960
Clinton, WA 98236

Telephone: 360-579-2505
Fax: 360-579-2575
E-mail: anmlpepl@whidbey.com
Web: www.animalpeoplenews.org 

[ANIMAL PEOPLE is the leading independent newspaper providing original investigative coverage of animal protection worldwide, founded in 1992. Our readership of 30,000-plus includes the decision-makers at more than 10,000 animal protection organizations. We have no alignment or affiliation with any other entity. $24/year; for free sample, send address.]

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