Monday in Augusta, two federal indictments were unsealed. One of the two indictments charged 38 individuals in connection with the Dec. 14, 2019 raid of a cockfighting tournament in Lincoln County.
The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and Georgia Department of Natural Resources coordinated the raid and Toombs Judicial Circuit District Attorney Bill Doupé worked closely with the investigation after the arrests. Doupé and Rindi Harbeson, chief assistant district attorney, joined federal investigators and prosecutors Monday for the press conference in Augusta.
“Most people in our community rightly would be shocked to learn that the barbaric bloodsport of cockfighting still exists, is happening right in their midst, and may involve numerous other types of criminal activity,” said Bobby L. Christine, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. “But thanks to the outstanding cooperation and work of our law enforcement partners, these cruel activities and a potential bevy of other criminal activities have been dealt a significant blow in the Southern District of Georgia.”
Lanier Augustus Hightower Jr., 64, of Lincolnton, along with six other defendants were indicted on charges of Sponsoring or Exhibiting an Animal in an Animal Fighting Venture, and Possession and Transport of an Animal in an Animal Fighting Venture. Hightower also is charged with Conducting an Illegal Gambling Business.
Those attending the fight were also charged.
A total of 38 defendants were charged with Attending an Animal Fighting Venture, a misdemeanor. Hightower also is charged with Conducting an Illegal Gambling Business.
Those charged in the indictment in the Lincoln County, in addition to Hightower, are Jason Lee Addison, 44, of Anderson, S.C.; Ronnie Lee Addison, 64, of Abbeville, S.C.; Leopoldo Barajas Arteaga, 35, of Stockbridge; Ramon Mendez Cazares, 63, of Conyers; Juan Manuel Expinoza, 36, of Easley, S.C.; Gabino Fernandez, 34, of Cumming; Alan Estevan Florez, 34, of Norcross; Humberto Fores-Vargas, 44, of Marietta; Virgilio Fortin, 43, of Augusta; Robert Lee Fuller, Jr., 71, of Belton, S.C.; Rafael Garcia, 58, of Forest Park; Juvenal Jovany Gonzalez, 19, of Talmo; Gerardo Quistian Hernandez, 33, of Cowpens, S.C.; Daniel Cornejo Herrera, 31, of Atlanta; Joel Herrera Jr., 31, of Norcross; Javier Izaguirre, 49, of Rex; Arturo Juarez-Acosta, 45, of Bethlehen; Angel Ayala Lopez, 30, of Liberty, S.C.; Robert Jeffrey McCollum, 52, of Iva, S.C.; Miguel Angel Medina, 49, of Duluth; Jose Luis Medrano, 52, of Norcross; Isidro Matthews Montanez Jr., 32, of Duluth; Kelvin Manuel Moreno, of Norcross; Jose Guadalupe Moreno Montes de Oca, 30, of Monroe; Gilberton Nava De Jesus Reamiro Navarro, 44, of Lawrenceville; Martin Ornelas, 58, of Winder; Daniel Ortiz Hernandez, 42. of Athens; Abel Ponce, 48, Winder; Esteban Adame Ramirez, 53, of Lancaster, S.C.; Jorge Rafael Rodriquez, 56, of Norcross; Javier Sanchez, 56, of Cumming; Timothy Smith, 47, of Canton; Wilder Thomas, 37, of Eatonton; Eric David Vargas, 50, of Elberton; and Fernado Zavala, 56, of Winder.
“The case originated with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and we were brought in early on that first weekend and provided some guidance with some of the legal issues that they were dealing with in the initial investigation,” said Doupé. “As they continued to work that it attracted the attention of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and then we worked together to share information and they wound up adopting the case and going forward.”
Doupé explained that the law against spectating at such an event is better drafted at the federal level than at the state level, so the case was purused based on federal law.
“Our relationship with the US. Attorney’s Office is very beneficial for our circuit,” Doupé added.
The other indictment unsealed Monday pertained to a raid Saturday in Midville, Swainsboro. Law enforcement officers from at least nine federal and state agencies shut down a cockfighting event in progress with 178 individuals in attendance.
“The United States Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General, actively investigates allegations of animal abuse and gambling activities in conjunction with that abuse,” said USDA-OIG Special Agent-in-Charge Jason Williams. “This agency has made animal fighting a high priority in order to demonstrate that these blatant acts of cruelty to animals will no longer be tolerated. We would like to thank United States Attorney’s Office for aggressively prosecuting perpetrators of animal fighting and our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners for assisting in enforcing these federal statutes.”
The cases are being prosecuted for the United States by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alejandro V. Pascual IV, Jennifer G. Solari and Xavier A. Cunningham, and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Edwin Caban.