U.S. Attorney's Office
District of South Carolina
(803) 929-3000
October 24, 2014

ASPCA Assists U.S. Attorney’s Office, FBI, Columbia Police in South Carolina Drug, Dog Fighting Investigation

COLUMBIA, SC—At the request of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina (USASC) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the ASPCA® (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) is assisting with a federal operation involving drugs and dog fighting in and around the Columbia, S.C. area.

In early 2013, as a result of community complaints, the FBI’s Columbia Violent Gang Task Force (CVGTF) – comprised of agents of the FBI, the Columbia Police Department, the Richland County Sheriff’s Office, South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) and the South Carolina National Guard — initiated an investigation into the drug activity occurring in and around a downtown Columbia neighborhood. Agents obtained evidence about a drug organization that was allegedly peddling cocaine and crack cocaine in the area, and that were also engaged in robberies and other acts of violence. During the course of the investigation, agents learned that the individual who supplied cocaine to the organization was also involved in purchasing, breeding, and fighting dogs.

A search warrant was executed Friday during which agents seized a dozen dogs from a property in Gaston, SC. Upon arriving at the scene, ASPCA responders found dogs exhibiting scars and injuries commonly associated with dog fighting. The dogs were found chained and anchored to car axles, with trash barrels being used as makeshift shelters. Adult dogs and puppies were found severely emaciated and dehydrated, and the remains of deceased dogs were also discovered on the premises, along with dog fighting paraphernalia. This was the second warrant executed on this property this month.

On October 1, agents searched the residence of the alleged drug supplier for evidence of his involvement in drug trafficking and dog fighting. At that time, agents seized 35 dogs, along with drugs, guns, and cash. The Lexington County Animal Shelter provided daily care for the seized dogs until the ASPCA was able to transport those dogs to a temporary shelter in an undisclosed location. The ASPCA managed the removal and transport of dogs involved in the investigation, and will continue to oversee forensic evidence collection, as well as the dogs’ veterinary care and sheltering.

Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook, who has made it a priority to protect innocent citizens of Columbia from gangs and gang activity, said, “It should come as no surprise that gangs, drug dealing, and violence often go hand in hand. However, gangs are often involved in other organized criminal activity. In this case, that criminal activity is dog fighting.”

“Organized dog fighting is a highly lucrative and brutal crime where dogs are forced to fight often to their death,” said Tim Rickey, vice president of ASPCA Field Investigations and Response. “The truth is that dog fighting happens all over the country, but it’s an underground activity that goes mostly unnoticed by the public. Dog fighting is often linked to other illegal activities including drugs and gambling, and we’re pleased to work alongside state, federal and local law enforcement agencies in ending these dogs’ suffering and seeing justice served.”

On October 21, a federal grand jury returned an Indictment charging Eric Dean Smith, 41, of Gaston, and seven others in a conspiracy to traffic cocaine and crack cocaine. The others charged were Gerald Montez Burris, 46, Amos Donnell Jones, 34, Stephoni Vernard Sumter, 28, Tony L. Gunter, 36, Travis Santale Sulton, 31, Dion W. Jones, 31, and Travis Leon Gilbert, 27, all of Columbia. The dogfighting investigation continues.

The ASPCA will provide daily care for the dogs at the temporary shelter until custody is determined by the court. PetSmart Charities® provided supplies including pet crates, toys and treats to support the rescue operation.

Dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Earlier this year, the Farm Bill was signed by President Obama, making it a federal offense to attend an organized animal fight and imposing additional penalties for bringing a minor to a fight.

About the ASPCA®

Founded in 1866, the ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) is the first animal welfare organization in North America and serves as the nation’s leading voice for animals. More than two million supporters strong, the ASPCA’s mission is to provide effective means for the prevention of cruelty to animals throughout the United States. As a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation, the ASPCA is a national leader in the areas of anti-cruelty, community outreach and animal health services. For more information, please visit www.ASPCA.org, and be sure to follow the ASPCA on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

All charges in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants remain innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

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