ST. LOUIS — Four eastern Missouri men arrested as part of a federal crackdown on dogfighting in several states pleaded guilty Monday to conspiracy and other crimes.
The four, along with a fifth co-defendant who pleaded guilty Sept. 4, are the first convictions resulting from the largest coordinated multi-state raids on dogfighting in U.S. history.
In July, federal agents arrested 26 people and seized more than 500 dogs in Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas. None of the other cases has advanced to trials or guilty pleas.
On Monday, Teddy Kiriakidis, 50, of Leasburg; Michael Morgan, 38, of Hannibal; Robert Hackman, 56, of Foley; and Ronald Creach, 34, of Leslie, admitted to U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson their role in breeding, raising, training, conditioning, trafficking, fighting and destroying American pit bull terriers.
Each man pleaded guilty to conspiracy. In addition, Hackman and Morgan pleaded guilty to selling animals for fighting.
The defendants said they routinely abandoned, destroyed and disposed of dogs that underperformed or became injured. Each agreed to forfeit dogs, money, weapons, property and fighting paraphernalia seized during the raids.
Sentencing was set for December. Under federal sentencing guidelines, each could face up to six months in prison.
A grand jury indicted the four, along with Jack Ruppel, 35, of Eldon, on dogfighting-related charges this summer in St. Louis. Ruppel pleaded guilty Sept. 4 to a conspiracy charge and to selling an animal for a fighting venture. His attorney, Timothy Cisar, said Ruppel pleaded guilty "because he is guilty."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Drake said Monday that the defendants in the related multistate cases knew each other in a shared "subculture."
Each of the conspirators and two of their attorneys declined to comment after the hearing.
Kiriakidis' attorney, Gil Sison, said his client accepts responsibility, adding the crime is a "part of his life he wants to put behind him." Hackman's attorney, Joel Schwartz, said his client accepts responsibility. He noted that Hackman's dogs received good care, while he admitted they risked injury or death in fights.
The St. Louis-based Humane Society of Missouri has more than 400 dogs taken from suspects in eastern and western Missouri and southern Illinois and another 100 puppies born since the raids.
Federal judges overseeing separate civil forfeiture proceedings will determine who has rightful claims to the confiscated dogs. They'll also consider the recommendations of animal behavior experts on whether the dogs are suitable for adoption.
Details released in court documents for the first time Monday show the dogfighting network was lucrative, sophisticated and extensive.
Morgan sold dogs to parties in Louisiana, Illinois, Florida, Missouri and elsewhere. He participated in fights with his co-defendants with dogs brought from Indiana and Oklahoma, with the purse for one fight being $2,100. Undercover agents purchased dogs from Morgan before busting him and recovering dogs and fighting equipment.
The documents reveal Hackman sold a dog and fight-enhancing steroids to an undercover agent. He raised fight dogs and arranged for fights in East St. Louis, Ill.
Agents seized 24 dogs along with treadmills, syringes, catheters and wound-care materials from Kiriakidis, who kept a kennel and held fights at his residence.
Creach bred and housed dogs and held fights at his rural Missouri property. He killed an under-performing female and, with Kiriakidis, fatally electrocuted another dog.