MONTGOMERY, Alabama, December 15, 2022 (ENS) – In connection with one of the biggest cockfighting and breeding businesses in the United States, a seventh and final Verbena, Alabama resident was sentenced December 6 for violating the Animal Welfare Act’s ban on animal fighting ventures.
At the end of a week of sentencings, four Alabama residents got prison terms and home detention for their roles in operating a large-scale cockfighting arena, known as a cockfighting pit, and fighting-bird breeding businesses, for conspiring to violate the Animal Welfare Act, and for running an illegal gambling business.
The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama determined that the illegal conduct involved animal fighting on an “exceptional scale” and imposed sentences which reflect what the Justice Department called “the unusual cruelty of a business model that relies on the death or injury of thousands of birds for entertainment and profit.”
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General (USDA-OIG) actively investigates allegations of animal abuse and any associated gambling activities,” said Special Agent in Charge Jason Williams of the USDA-OIG. “This agency has made animal fighting a high priority to demonstrate that these blatant acts of cruelty to animals will not be tolerated.”
The U.S. District Court issued sentences for four defendants who pleaded guilty to multiple felonies on August 5:
- – On December 6, George William “Billy” Easterling, 56, was sentenced to 22 months in prison followed by one year of supervised release for violating the Animal Welfare Act’s ban on animal fighting and for conspiring with others to violate the Act in connection with the cockfighting pit and the Swift Creek Gamefarm fighting-bird breeding operation.
- – On November 30, Brent Colon Easterling, 38, was sentenced to 24 months in prison followed by one year of supervised release for violating the Animal Welfare Act’s prohibition against animal fighting and for conspiring to violate the Act in connection with the cockfighting pit and the L&L Gamefarm fighting-bird breeding operation.
- – Also on November 30, William “Tyler” Easterling, 30, was handed 20 months in prison followed by one year of supervised release for violating the Animal Welfare Act’s ban on animal fighting and for conspiring to violate the Act in connection with the cockfighting pit and the Swift Creek Gamefarm fighting-bird breeding operation.
- – On November 30, William Colon “Jim” Easterling, 77, was sentenced to two years of home detention, rather than incarceration which the court determined would be “extremely detrimental” to his declining health, and a fine of $8,000 for violating the Animal Welfare Act’s ban on animal fighting ventures and for conspiring to violate the Act and to operate an illegal gambling business in connection with the cockfighting pit.
Consistent with his plea agreement, Jim Easterling has dismantled and destroyed the cockfighting arena and associated outbuildings, the Justice Department said.
Three other Verbena residents, also members of the Easterling family, pleaded guilty on June 3 to conspiring to violate the Animal Welfare Act or to a violation of the Act.
On October 13, Kassi Brook Easterling, 39, was sentenced to two years of probation, including six months home detention, for conspiring to violate the Animal Welfare Act’s ban on animal fighting ventures, including the sale of cockfighting knives, and for her involvement with the L&L Gamefarm fighting-bird breeding operation.
Also on October 13, Amber Nicole Easterling, 25, got one year of probation for her involvement with the cockfighting pit.
And Thomas Glyn “Junior” Williams, 34, was sentenced to one year of probation for his involvement with the cockfighting pit and the Swift Creek Gamefarm fighting-bird breeding business.
“As these sentences vividly show, the Department of Justice will continue to hold accountable those who encourage and profit from forcing animals to fight each other for human entertainment,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
“These sentences demonstrate the importance of enforcing the Animal Welfare Act to ensure the humane treatment of animals and prohibit cruel practices such as cockfighting,” said U.S. Attorney Sandra Stewart for the Middle District of Alabama.
Near the pit, members of the Easterling family ran two fighting-bird breeding businesses – the Swift Creek Gamefarm and L&L Gamefarm – where thousands of birds were bred and sold to be used in the fights.
Combined, the seven convicted members of the Easterling family helped run one of the largest cockfighting enterprises in the country. With the help of six of his family members, Jim Easterling owned and operated the cockfighting pit for many years, enlisting his granddaughter, Amber Easterling, to sell at the merchandise stand the weapons used to kill birds in cockfights.
Court documents and public records show that from at least January 2018 through June 11, 2021, illegal cockfighting events were held at the cockfighting pit, an arena with stadium-style seating for 150 people which faced several cockfighting pits, a merchandise stand and other outbuildings.
The illegal contests pitted at least two roosters against each other, each with a sharp blade attached to its leg. These fights were conducted for the purpose of sport, wagering and entertainment.
“Participants were charged expensive fees to enter their birds in the derbies – such as $1,500 to fight seven roosters – and told what weapons to strap to the roosters’ legs, such as short knives, long knives or spurs,” the Justice Department alleged.
Brent Easterling was one of the best-known fighting-bird breeders in the country, running L&L Gamefarm with his wife Kassi Easterling. They charged prices such as $1,500 for three birds because of their select fighting pedigrees.
Tyler Easterling helped his father, Billy Easterling, operate a big fighting-bird breeding business known as Swift Creek Gamefarm, where they employed their in-law, Junior Williams, and others to help maintain and ship fighting birds.
The USDA-OIG and Homeland Security Investigations investigated the case with assistance from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office in South Carolina provided “invaluable assistance” to federal law enforcement officers.
Featured image: A caged fighting cock discovered during a law enforcement raid on an operation in California. 2012 (Screengrab from video courtesy Humane Society of the United States)