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Home > Press Page

Monday, December 21, 2009 —A weekend raid on a rural Illinois farm led to the arrests of 10 individuals participating in illegal gambling through a cockfighting competition, according to the office of Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart.

Officers raided a barn in Earlville, about 90 minutes outside of Cook County, on Saturday, culminating a two-month investigation. The investigation began in Cook County and undercover officers with the Cook County Sheriff’s Animal Crimes Unit were able to infiltrate the ring, which has members from across Illinois.

Officers learned a large cockfighting operation had been based at the LaSalle County farm for at least five years, providing thousands of dollars in illegal cash to hundreds of people, many from the Chicago area. Police believe some of the proceeds, over the years, may have been used to fund illegal gun and drug purchases. The Cook County Sheriff’s Police worked closely with officers from the Illinois State Police and the LaSalle County Sheriff’s Department to carry out Saturday’s arrests.

Cockfighting is a centuries-old blood sport where specially-trained roosters, known as gamecocks, are trained to fight to the death. The roosters are bred for maximum aggressiveness and are often pumped full of steroids to bolster their strength. Additionally, the birds’ legs are fastened with 3-inch long, razor-sharp steel picks. These spurs help the birds mutilate and kill their competitors. They often suffer punctured lungs, broken bones, gouged eyes or have their heads ripped off before dying.

As the officers worked their way into the operation, they learned of a large fight set for Saturday. Participants agreed to pay $1,000 to enter up to five gamecocks in the fight and that money went into a large pot, part of the illegal payouts to participants. After participants arrived and the first fights were scheduled to begin, nearly 50 officers surrounded the barn on the property located just east of I-39.

Rudolfo Villanueva, 51, of Earlville, who lives at the farm, was charged with unlawful use of a weapon and making a site available for animal fighting, both felonies, and possessing a gun with no FOID Card.

The following people, who paid a $50 admission fee to enter the barn and place wagers on the fights, were charged with attending an animal fight, which just became a felony in Illinois this year:

“Cockfighting is an extremely brutal form of illegal gambling,” Sheriff Dart said. “No matter what form it takes, there has long been a strong connection between illegal gambling and other illegal activity, including drug dealing and gun running. It’s unacceptable that defenseless animals are bred specifically to be put into a ‘kill or be killed’ situation for the sick enjoyment of people hoping to win a few dollars.”

Officials with the Animal Welfare League in Chicago Ridge and the Humane Society of the United States accompanied officers to the raid to evaluate the gamecocks. Unfortunately, due to the conditions of the animals and the manner in which they were raised, all had to be humanely euthanized on-site.
"We commend Sheriff Dart and all the other law enforcement agencies that worked so hard to stop this horrific act," said Jordan Matyas, Illinois State Director for the Humane Society of the United States. "Cockfighting is a cruel blood sport that has no place in Illinois. This last year the HSUS worked to increase the penalties for spectators at cockfights and we are hopeful this new law will send a strong message and help to end this criminal industry."

During the raid, police also recovered six guns, including an AK-47 and a Carbine. All arrestees were processed by the Illinois State Police and face charges in LaSalle County. 

Sheriff Dart thanked the officers from the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Animal Crimes Unit, Special Operations and Gang Units, Illinois State Police, U.S. Postal Service Inspectors, U.S. Department of Agriculture, LaSalle County Sheriff’s and State’s Attorneys’ offices, as well as members of the Humane Society of the United States and Chicago Ridge Humane Society for their hard work and cooperation.

Anyone with information about animal abuse can call the Cook County Sheriff at (708) 865-4720.

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