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Raid of Patrick County cockfighting ring yields drugs, weapons and over 70 arrests

PHOTO: KMOO

PATRICK COUNTY – An eighteen month investigation ended in the mass arrest of more than 70 individuals, according to Patrick County Sheriff Dan Smith. A multi-agency law enforcement presence of more than 50 officers executed a search warrant at 435 Long Branch Road in Claudeville at 1245 PM on Saturday. Smith stated that the site was the venue, and had been on multiple past occasions, for illegal cock fighting. The sheriff indicated that the search warrant was for all structures, people and vehicles found on the premises. Evidence collected over the course of the investigation shows that the operation is Mexican based, and participants from as far as Texas and Georgia allegedly travelled to engage in the illegal activity. Cock fighting is classified as a felony under Virginia Law. The sheriff indicated that conditions on the property were deplorable, adding that numerous chicken carcasses were found along with several caged chickens waiting to be fought. Gaffs, or elongated razors, were found attached to the spurs of both live and dead chickens. Smith said that the live birds will be seized and housed until forfeited, at which time they will be humanely euthanized by a Veterinarian. “These animals cannot be reintroduced back into an agricultural setting, they have been specifically trained to attack and kill, euthanization is the only alternative.” US Currency, Methamphetamine, firearms, multiple edged weapons and assorted property, including vehicles, were seized from the property. Patrick County Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Vipperman advised that the case is being prosecuted under the state’s RICO statute (Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act). Patrick County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Eric O’Connell, who led the investigation, indicated that evidence shows that the ring was an elaborate, well organized operation which travelled to several different venues in both Virginia and North Carolina. Large sums of money was bet on the fights, and methamphetamine was commonly dealt at the venue as well. “Evidence obtained leads us to believe that Mexican drug cartels operating in the region had a clear and definite presence,” stated O’Connell. The sheriff said that some women and children were present, but the predominate makeup of the participants were Mexican males ranging in age from 20 to 65. The property is owned by Phillip Baldwin, age 53. Baldwin lives at the site and was present during the execution of the search warrant. Baldwin was among those arrested on Sunday, according to Smith. Smith said that tactical teams from the Patrick County Sheriff’s Office, Martinsville Police Department and Carroll County Sheriff’s Office were inserted into the woods well before daylight on Saturday morning to provide a perimeter and surveillance on the site. Communication was maintained throughout the morning with those teams. At 12:45 PM, tactical teams from the Henry County Sheriff’s Office and Virginia State Police executed the search warrant. About half of the suspects were arrested near the fighting site, and half were arrested as they fled into the woods by the embedded perimeter teams. “The sheer number of people that we were dealing with, some of whom were armed, made this a very difficult mission, planning was extensive” Smith said. Smith praised fellow law enforcement agencies, stating that the level of unselfish support provided by them made the operation a safe success. “ The public expects us to rid this county of blatant and inhumane criminal activity, with the help of our fellow support agencies, that is exactly what happened on yesterday, ” Smith said. The sheriff’s office is communicating with ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement) to determine the immigration status of many of those arrested. Deputies continued to work throughout the day on Sunday processing both arrestees and evidence. “We have been at this for two solid days, but we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Smith said. A list of the arrestees is expected to be released by Tuesday. Participating agencies were: Patrick County Sheriff’s Office, Virginia State Police, Henry County Sheriff’s Office, Martinsville Police Department, Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, Patrick County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office, Patrick County Department of Emergency Management, Henry County Public Safety, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Danville Police Department, Surrey County NC Sheriff’s Office, Surrey County EMS

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