Two Iowa Men, One Nebraska Man Plead Guilty in Dog Fighting Conspiracy
|U.S. Attorney’s Office December 16, 2009|
KANSAS CITY, MO—Matt J. Whitworth, United States Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, announced today that three more defendants have pleaded guilty in federal court to their roles in a conspiracy to promote and participate in dog fights.
Zachary R.Connelly, 32, of Ogden, Iowa, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Ortrie D. Smith this afternoon to the charge contained in a June 23, 2009, federal indictment. Ryan J. Tasler, 42, of Woodward, Iowa, and Julio Reyes, 29, of Tecumseh, Neb., pleaded guilty to the same charge on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2009.
Reyes admitted that on April 25, 2009, and May 8, 2009, he transported his pit bull dogs from Nebraska to Missouri to participate in dog fights at the residence of co-defendant Cris E. Bottcher, 48, of Gilman City, Mo. Connelly also admitted that on May 8, 2009, he transported a pit bull from Iowa to Bottcher’s residence. Tasler admitted that he assisted Connelly.
Bottcher, a registered nurse employed at Harrison County Community Hospital in Bethany, Mo., pleaded guilty on Oct. 6, 2009, to his role in the dog-fighting conspiracy. Bottcher also pleaded guilty to sponsoring or exhibiting an animal in an animal fighting venture.
Co-defendants Rick P. Hihath, 56, of St. Joseph, Mo., and Kevin P. Tasler, 51, of Jefferson, Iowa, have also pleaded guilty to their roles in the dog fighting conspiracy. Hihath, who worked for a state school for the handicapped, also pleaded guilty to sponsoring or exhibiting an animal in an animal fighting venture. Hihath was the promoter and sponsor of the match fights and roll fights involving pit bull fighting dogs transported from Iowa and Nebraska to Missouri. Tasler admitted that on April 25, 2009, he conspired to transport a pit bull dog from Iowa to Missouri for participation in an animal fighting venture.
The government is seeking to take legal ownership of Connelly’s five pit bulls and Ryan Tasler’s five pit bulls, as well as Hihath’s 12 dogs (seven pit bull terriers and five American bulldogs), Bottcher’s 11 pit bulls, and Kevin Tasler’s two pit bulls, all of which are in the care and custody of the Humane Society. Under federal law, the government can seek the forfeiture of any animals engaged in an animal fighting venture. Additionally, the government is seeking a court order requiring the defendants to reimburse the Humane Society for all costs incurred for care of the animals while the animals are in the custody of the Humane Society.
Under federal statutes, each of the defendants is subject to a sentence of up to five years in federal prison without parole, plus a fine up to $250,000 and an order of restitution. Sentencing hearings will be scheduled after the completion of presentence investigations by the United States Probation Office.
In a separate case that resulted from the same multi-state investigation, Jack Ruppel, 35, of Eldon, Mo., pleaded guilty on Sept. 4, 2009 to his role in a conspiracy to transport animals across state lines for an animal fighting venture and to use the mail to promote and advertise the venture. Ruppel also pleaded guilty to selling an animal for participation in an animal fighting venture.
Beginning sometime before 2008, Ruppel, who operated Ozark Hillbillies Kennel, became involved in breeding, raising, training and selling dogs for participation in animal fighting ventures. Through his dog kennel operation, Ruppel bred, trained, conditioned and developed pit bull terriers both for participation in animal fighting ventures and to represent himself in animal fighting ventures! and dog fighting competitions.
Ruppel specifically admitted that he attended or participated in 10 dog fights between July 19, 2008, and April 18, 2009, including one dog fight at his residence, and that he wagered money on some dog fights. Ruppel admitted that he killed some of his dogs who would not fight, or had not fought well enough to meet expectations.
The government is also seeking to take legal ownership of Ruppel’s 46 dogs (45 pit bull terriers and one mastiff).
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane Pansing Brown. It was investigated by the Office of Inspector General-Investigations, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.