Dubbed Operation Angry Bird, it resulted in a total of nine felony arrests, 3,000 birds rescued and 70 people taken into custody, six of them from a cockfighting venue located at 74-26 Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven.
“Cockfighting is a cruel, abusive and barbaric practice that tortures animals, endangers the health and safety of the public and is known to facilitate other crimes,” state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said. “My office, along with our partners in law enforcement and animal welfare, are committed to ending this vicious blood sport.”
On Saturday night, February 8, state police raided the basement of a barbershop in Woodhaven that had been closed for two years where a cockfight was taking place with about 70 spectators and bettors.
The shop had been operating bimonthly events there since at least May, when the Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF) first began monitoring cockfighting at the location.
Arturo Cabrera, who works at Family Barber just down the block from the cockfighting ring on Jamaica Ave., said he didn’t know of anything going on there, but was not surprised. People today will do anything for money, Cabrera said.
“It’s a part of life, but I’m not saying it’s okay,” he said.
Students from Franklin K. Lane High School right across the street are not allowed to bring cell phones into school, so many of them pay 50 cents to leave them at the realty store, which was connected to the barber shop.
Valeria Delgado, 17, of East New York, said she always knew something was weird in there.
“It smelled funky,” she said.
Her classmate, Johnathan Hernandez arrived on the scene Saturday night when he got off the J train. He said there were “tons of police, animals and men being arrested. It was crazy.”
“I never suspected anything like that,” Hernandez said. “The guy that ran it seemed like a really humble guy.”
At the cockfights, spectators were charged an admission fee, and alcohol was sold without a permit while drugs were used openly. Organizers hired security personnel who frisked attendees, counter-surveillance within the neighborhood, security cameras and a paid referee. Individual wagers reached as high as $10,000.
At the same time police were raided the Woodhaven location, police executed a search warrant at Pet NV, a pet shop in Bushwick owned by Jeremias Nieves, resulting in the seizure of 50 roosters. Responders found the birds living inside metal cages in the basement, and they had physical alterations consistent with cockfighting.
The following morning, on February 9, police raided a 90-acre farm in Ulster County where as many as 3,000 roosters and hens were seized. The farm had operated for years under the guise of a live poultry farm, and the birds were living in deplorable conditions. Many showed signs of starvation and other conditions requiring medical attention.
The owner of the property collected rent from rooster owners and blood sport enthusiasts in exchange for boarding, feeding and caring for their birds, which were bred and trained for fighting.
Cockfighting paraphernalia was discovered at both the Brooklyn and Queens properties, including artificial spurs, candle wax, medical adhesive tape, syringes used to inject performance enhancing drugs to strengthen the roosters’ fighting ability, and other cockfighting implements and paraphernalia.
“Our primary goal was to immediately remove these birds from a cycle of violence and suffering,” said Stacy Wolf, senior vice president of the ASPCA’s Anti-Cruelty Group.
Birds that were rescued during the bust.