Close to a dozen people now have pleaded guilty  — and six have since been sentenced — to federal charges of drug and dog-fighting violations, following an investigation of a horrific dog-fighting ring in which federal agents seized more than 150 dogs from multiple homes in Georgia.

A  federal investigation from May 2019 to February 2020 revealed a criminal organization involving both cocaine distribution and organized dog fights in Roberta, Ga., that also bled into north Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. 

Lady Freethinker thanks the more than 32,500 supporters who demanded accountability for those responsible for forcing dogs to brutally fight each other, and to all agencies involved in investigating and prosecuting these individuals.

Dog victims rescued by investigators included an emaciated and overbred female pitbull, chained with both her legs broken, and other malnourished dogs sporting injuries from recent dog fights. 

The Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia on January 29 indicted 11 individuals on allegations of drug-related and dog-fighting-related violations: Jarvis Lockett, 40, of Warner Robins, Ga.; Derrick Owens, 37, of Woodland, Ga.; Christopher Raines, 50, of Talbotton, Ga.; Armard Davis, 41, of Fort Valley, Ga.; Jason Carter, 38, of Phoenix City, Ala.; Shaquille Bentley, 26, of Roberta, Ga.; Bryanna Holmes, 24, of Fort Valley, Ga.; Vernon Vegas, 49, of Suwanee, Ga.; Lekey Davis, 45, of Talbotton, Ga.; Kathy Ann Whitfield, 61, of Columbus, Ga.; and Rodrick Walton, 40, of Shiloh, Ga.

An indictment is a series of allegations brought forth by a probable cause determination by a grand jury against individuals, who are innocent until convicted.

But all defendants have since pleaded guilty — with the exceptions of Whitfield, whose case was dismissed, and A. Davis, who pleaded not guilty, according to records from the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) database of federal cases.

Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim, of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources, said the cases illustrate “the connection between the underworld of drugs, organized crime, and dog fighting,” while Acting Attorney Peter Leary said none of that activity will be tolerated by the office.

“Dog fighting venues are magnets for a multitude of dangerous criminal activity,” he said. “Our office and law enforcement will not tolerate animal fighting or the crimes surrounding it.”

Six of the individuals have been sentenced, with the remaining four individuals facing stiff penalties. 

Those who pleaded guilty specifically to dog-fighting charges generally faced up to five years imprisonment, fines of up to $250,000, and up to three years of supervised release. Those charges, however, were tagged onto drug-related charges that carried more serious prison time and fines. 

According to PACER, those sentenced thus far:

  • Owens pleaded guilty on July 7 to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to participate in an animal fighting venture. He has been sentenced to 120 months imprisonment (10 years), 5 years of supervised release, and fined $30,200. During probation, he’s not allowed to gamble or own animals and also must participate in a drug and alcohol testing and treatment program.
  • Carter pleaded guilty on April 26 to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine. He was sentenced on Oct. 6 to 97 months (eight years and one month) imprisonment, three years of supervised release and a $100 mandatory assessment fee. During probation he must participate in a drug and alcohol testing and treatment program. 
  • Bentley pleaded guilty on April 8 to conspiracy to use a communication facility in violation of federal law. Bentley was sentenced on Nov. 4 to 13 months (one year and one month) imprisonment, a $100 mandated assessment fee,  and one year of supervised release, with mandated participation in a drug and alcohol testing and treatment program.
  • Holmes pleaded guilty on April 27 to using a communication facility in violation of federal law and was sentenced on Sept. 9 to a $100 mandated assessment fee and 36 months (three years) probation, during which she must participate in a drug and alcohol testing and treatment program. 
  • L. Davis pleaded guilty on Aug. 13 to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and was sentenced on Nov. 5 to 210 months (17 years, six months) imprisonment, supervised release for four years (to include drug and alcohol testing and treatment), and a $100 mandatory assessment fee. 
  • Walton pleaded guilty on March 29 to conspiracy to participate in an animal fighting venture and was sentenced on July 19 to 24 months (two years) imprisonment, a $100 assessment fee, and three years of supervised release — the terms of which prohibit Walton from gambling or owning animals. He’ll also have to participate in a drug and alcohol testing and treatment program. 

Most of those with cases still pending have their next court dates currently scheduled for January 2022 before U.S. District Judge Tilman E. Self, III. According to PACER:

Vegas — a well-known dog-fighting trainer, and owner of Cane Valley Kennels, according to the Attorney’s Office — pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to participate in an animal fighting venture on Sept. 14. He faces a maximum five years in prison, a maximum fine of $250,000, and three years of supervised release. His next court hearing is planned for January 11, 2022.

Lockett pleaded guilty on Oct. 7 to distribution of cocaine and conspiracy to participate in an animal fighting venture. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment, a max fine of $1 million, and supervised release of up to three years. His next court hearing is planned for Jan. 11, 2022.

Raines pleaded guilty on July 20 to counts of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to participate in an animal fighting venture. He faces life imprisonment, a max fine of $10 million, and five years of supervised release. His next court hearing is planned for Jan. 6, 2022.

A. Davis, who has pleaded not guilty, currently has a pre-trial conference set for February 24.

The cases were investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, The United States Department of Agriculture, Office of the Inspector General (USDA-OIG), U.S. Marshals Service, The Department of Justice, Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, Crawford County Sheriff’s Office, Houston County Sheriff’s Office, Merriweather County Sheriff’s Office, Peach County Sheriff’s Office, Taylor County Sheriff’s Office, Webster County Sheriff’s Office, Byron Police Department, and the Fort Valley Police Department.

We will continue to watch for the sentencing of the final four defendants.

What’s New…

Dog fighting ring