A raid on a site in Claudeville on Saturday led to the arrests of 70 individuals on charges of conducting illegal cock fights that investigators say have links to the Mexican drug cartels.
Cash, methamphetamine, firearms, multiple-edged weapons and assorted property, including vehicles, also were seized when 50 officers executed a search warrant at 435 Long Branch Road in Claudeville at 12:45 p.m., a Patrick County Sheriff’s Office release said.
Patrick County Sheriff Dan Smith said the site was a known venue for cock fighting, which is a felony in Virginia, and that evidence collected during the investigation shows that the operation is Mexican-based and put on events in both North Carolina and Virginia.
The release said that participants from as far away as Texas and Georgia allegedly travelled to engage in the illegal activity.
Patrick County Sheriff’s Lt. Eric O’Connell led the investigation, which, he said, shows that the ring was an elaborate, well-organized operation. Large sums of money were bet on the fights, and methamphetamine was commonly dealt at the venue as well, the release said.
“Evidence obtained leads us to believe that Mexican drug cartels operating in the region had a clear and definite presence,” O’Connell said in the release.
Patrick County Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Vipperman said the case is being prosecuted under the state’s RICO statute (Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act).
Smith said that tactical teams from the Patrick County Sheriff’s Office, Martinsville Police Department and Carroll County Sheriff’s Office were inserted into adjacent woods well before daylight on Saturday morning to provide surveillance.
At 12:45, 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 in the release.
He 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, 53, who lives at the site and was present during the execution of the search warrant. Baldwin was among those arrested on Sunday, according to Smith.
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.”
In the release Smith said 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 they will be euthanized. “These animals cannot be reintroduced back into an agricultural setting,” he said. “They have been specifically trained to attack and kill. Euthanization is the only alternative.”
The 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 and Surrey County EMS also participated in the raid.