STATESBORO, GA: An Emanuel County man has admitted operating an animal fighting venture, representing the third owner of a cockfighting operation in the Southern District to enter a guilty plea to federal charges.
Wendell Allan Strickland, 67, of Swainsboro, Ga., pled guilty in U.S. District Court to two counts of Sponsoring and Exhibiting an Animal in an Animal Fighting Venture; two counts of Conducting an Illegal Gambling Business; and one count of Possession and Transport of an Animal in an Animal Fighting Venture, all felonies; and one misdemeanor charge of Attending an Animal Fighting Venture, said Acting U.S. Attorney David H. Estes. In addition to forfeiture of the property on which illegal cockfights were held, Strickland faces a possible statutory penalty of up to five years in prison and significant financial penalties, followed by up to three years of supervised release. There is no parole in the federal system.
“Animal fights are illegal and barbaric, and also are magnets for other criminal activity,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Estes. “With our law enforcement partners, we will continue to shut down these operations and hold the organizers accountable.”
The investigation into animal fighting operations in the Southern District, led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of the Inspector General (USDA-OIG) and in cooperation with multiple federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, determined that Strickland operated a cockfighting venue called The Red Barn on his Swainsboro property. Multiple law enforcement agencies raided the site in September 2020, seizing cockfighting gear and arresting Strickland.
Cockfights were held at The Red Barn on alternating weekend schedules with those at Little Sunset, a larger venue in nearby Midville, Ga., owned by William Shannon Scott, 49. Scott was arrested on federal charges as part of Operation Sunrise, a multi-agency raid of a cockfighting tournament at his property in June 2020 in which nearly 200 possible defendants were identified. Scott pled guilty to Sponsoring and Exhibiting an Animal in an Animal Fighting Venture and is awaiting sentencing.
A third cockfighting venue owner, Lanier Augustus Hightower Jr., 65, of Lincolnton, Ga., also pled guilty to Sponsoring and Exhibiting an Animal in an Animal Fighting Venture and is awaiting sentencing. Hightower and more than three dozen other defendants were indicted after a December 2019 raid during a cockfighting tournament on his farm.
Both Scott and Hightower face forfeiture of their farms, along with up to five years in prison, substantial financial penalties, and up to three years of supervised release. Most of the other defendants charged in the cases have been sentenced after entering guilty pleas.
“The gruesome ritual of animal fighting has no place in a civilized society and will not be tolerated,” said Jason Williams, Special Agent in Charge, USDA-OIG. “Our agency has prioritized dismantling animal fighting ventures as we continue to be relentless in our pursuit of those who would take pleasure in inflicting misery and death upon these defenseless creatures.”
The cases are being investigated by the USDA-OIG and prosecuted for the United States by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Alejandro V. Pascual IV and Xavier A. Cunningham, and Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jessica Rock and Edwin Caban Jr.