Cockfighting ring busted

Photo courtesy ASPCA
By Sarina Trangle

A Woodhaven business owner welcomed the arrest of a neighborhood real estate agent on charges of participating in a cockfighting ring in the basement of a vacant Jamaica Avenue storefront.

It was the largest such sting in state history, according to state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose office orchestrated the raid.

Orlando Bautista, 51, was among six arrested Saturday when authorities raided 74-26 Jamaica Ave., where prosecutors said more than 70 had gathered to watch cocks fight to the death. Schneiderman’s Organized Crime Fighting Task Force, state police and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security seized 65 birds from the basement, where they said bimonthly battles have been held since at least May. Prosecutors said some cocks had feathers removed and artificial spurs affixed to them with wax and bandages to prepare them for fights.

The ring charged admission and had security personnel on staff to frisk attendees, authorities said. Once in the basement, the attorney general said, drugs were used openly and alcohol was served without a liquor license as spectators watched a paid referee supervise the match. Prosecutors said gamblers wagered up to $10,000 on the fights.

Bautista was charged with animal fighting, a felony, along with five others, Schneiderman said.

He pled not guilty when arraigned Sunday.

Bautista, who was listed on real estate websites as a broker with the business next door, 1st Century Realty, could not be reached for comment. Neither could his attorney.

An owner of a nearby business said he remained glued to surveillance cameras as authorities closed in on the ring this weekend. He said the cockfighting matches clogged a communal driveway shared by shops and alleged that its organizers engaged in other illicit activity.

“It was about time that they got him,” said the man, who requested anonymity for fear of his safety. “He had a strip club back there. You name it — he did what he wanted.”

The bust, called Operation Angry Birds, spanned three counties. Authorities arrested the owner of a Brooklyn pet shop, where the attorney general said investigators found 55 birds that appeared to be trained and altered for battle alongside syringes used to inject performance-enhancing drugs and other cockfighting paraphernalia.

Authorities also raided a farm in the upstate town of Plattekill and arrested two employees. Schneiderman said the 90-acre farm charged rent to board and train birds owned by people along the East Coast. The birds were transported to the Queens and Brooklyn fighting arenas busted this weekend, the attorney general’s office said.

“This investigation — one of the largest in U.S. history — illustrates the prevalence of cockfighting in America, its brutal nature and the link to other illegal activities,” Schneiderman said in a statement.

The nearly 3,000 birds found on the farm along with others rescued in the sting were handed over to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Reporter Alex Robinson contributed to this story.

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at strangle@cnglocal.com.

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