Dog-fighting raids conducted in three states, including Missouri

Wednesday, July 8, 2009 | 4:00 p.m. CDT

WASHINGTON — A federal grand jury has indicted seven people for allegedly running a pit bull dog-fighting ring in northwest Missouri.

Authorities arrested about 30 people and seized about 200 dogs in dog-fighting raids Wednesday across three states, the Justice Department said.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which cooperated in the investigation, said the target was believed to be the largest dogfighting operation in U.S. history. The raids by task forces involving federal, state and local law enforcement agencies were conducted across Missouri, southern Illinois and eastern Texas after a nine-month investigation.

Those indicted in Missouri were Rick P. Hihath, 55, of St. Joseph; Cris E. Bottcher, 48, of Gilman City; Jill D. Makstaller, 32, of Perry, Iowa; Julio Reyes, 28, of Tecumseh, Neb.; Zachary R. Connelly, 32, of Ogden, Iowa; Kevin P. Tasler, 51, of Jefferson, Iowa; and Ryan J. Tasler, 32, of Woodward, Iowa.

The indictment alleges the fights took place at Bottcher's farm in Gilman City, about 100 miles northeast of Kansas City.

Prosecutors say some dogs involved in the fights were burned, shot or thrown in a river and others did not receive proper care for their wounds.

Dogfighting is banned throughout the U. S. and is a felony in 48 states. Former President George W. Bush signed a law two years ago that increased penalties for activities that promote or encourage animal fighting after a long campaign by animal-welfare groups.

John M. Bales, the U.S. attorney in eastern Texas, said nine people in his state were indicted on June 30 of three counts — conspiracy to commit an offense against the U. S., sponsoring or exhibiting an animal in an animal fighting venture and buying, selling, delivering or transporting animals for participation in an animal fighting venture. If convicted, the defendants each face up to five years in federal prison and fines of up to $250,000.

Bales said eight people were arrested Wednesday in Texas' Panola and Gregg counties. Nine dogs, mostly pit bull terriers, were seized during a search of property in rural Panola County.

Bales said a veterinarian was on site to care for the dogs along with representatives of the Humane Society. Bales said he's filed motions to put the dogs in the care of the Humane Society and asked a judge to order those charged in the case to reimburse the organization for the cost.

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