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SWANTON — More than half of the 52 people cited in a Fulton County cockfighting case this month pleaded guilty Wednesday and were fined.
Judge Colin McQuade of the county’s Eastern District Court handled 36 of the cases and is scheduled to handle six more arraignments today. The rest have retained private legal counsel and will appear in court on later dates.
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On May 4, Fulton County sheriff’s deputies seized 72 live roosters from 9786 County Road N in Royalton Township.
Fulton County Sheriff Roy Miller said at the time deputies interrupted the event before fighting really began when a neighbor reported suspicious activity possibly related to cockfighting, a blood sport where roosters bred for their aggression fight to the death.
When authorities arrived, people were fleeing from a shed, though many later returned for their vehicles and were apprehended. The birds, called gamecocks, were found in cages and boxes around the property and in cars.
All of the 36 people who have appeared in court so far were found guilty of single fourth-degree misdemeanor counts of attending and aiding and abetting animal fighting. They were sentenced to the maximum fine of $250 plus court costs. If the defendants commit a similar offense in the next three years, the court reserves the right to add a maximum 30-day jail term as allowed by law.
Also, all of the offenders sentenced Wednesday denied owning any of the birds seized.
Judge McQuade warned any offenders who aren’t U.S. citizens that a conviction could have consequences including deportation or denial of naturalization.
Several of the defendants declined to comment to The Blade after the proceedings.
The man identified as the owner of the property where the raid took place, listed in court records as Candelario Nieto Castillo, faces a first-degree misdemeanor charge of operating a gambling house and a second-degree misdemeanor charge of animal cruelty in addition to the animal fighting charge.
His attorney, E. Charles Bates of Defiance, declined to comment when contacted by The Blade, but confirmed that Mr. Nieto Castillo has entered a plea of not guilty and is scheduled for pretrial at 10 a.m. June 12.
Of the 52, only nine are Ohio residents while 26 are Indiana residents and 17 others were from southeastern Michigan communities. An official with the Humane Society of the United States said the number of out-of-state residents is common because Ohio is one of nine states where cockfighting remains a misdemeanor instead of a felony. It also indicates an organized ring.
One of the 72 gamecocks was severely injured and had to be killed. Tracy Zuver, chief deputy sheriff, said the others are being cared for in an undisclosed location and will remain in custody until the cases are completed.
“We’re waiting for the court to release them,” he said. “We have received a few phone calls from people wanting to adopt the birds. That’s something we’ll definitely look into.”