ALBUQUERQUE ― A federal grand jury in Albuquerque returned an indictment charging Albuquerque resident Robert Arellano, 63, with 13 counts of violating the animal fighting prohibitions of the federal Animal Welfare Act, announced James D. Tierney, Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico, and Jeffrey H. Wood, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
Arellano had previously been arrested and indicted on additional charges in the District of New Jersey pertaining to his alleged involvement in a multi-state dog fighting network. Those charges alleged criminal acts related to transporting, delivering, buying, selling, and receiving pit bull-type dogs for dog fighting ventures and conspiring to commit these acts in New Jersey and elsewhere throughout the United States.
The charges returned yesterday in the District of New Mexico pertain to fighting dogs allegedly kept by Arellano at his residence in Albuquerque. Those dogs were seized by federal authorities when Arellano was arrested last June.
This case is part of Operation Grand Champion, a coordinated effort across numerous federal judicial districts to combat organized dog fighting. The phrase “Grand Champion” is used by dog fighters to refer to a dog with more than five dog-fighting “victories.” To date, 85 dogs have been rescued as part of Operation Grand Champion, and either surrendered or forfeited to the government.
The federal Animal Welfare Act makes it a felony punishable by up to five years in prison to knowingly sell, buy, possess, train, transport, deliver, or receive any animal, including dogs, for purposes of having the animal participate in an animal fighting venture. Under federal law, an animal fighting venture means “any event, in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, that involves a fight conducted or to be conducted between at least two animals for purposes of sport, wagering, or entertainment.”
This part of Operation Grand Champion was investigated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of the Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Dax Roberson; and the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Terry Wade of the FBI’s Albuquerque Division, in coordination with the Department of Justice.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Letitia Simms and Paul Mysliwiec of the District of New Mexico, and Trial Attorney Ethan Eddy of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section, Environment and Natural Resources Division. The Humane Society of the United States assisted with the care of the dogs seized by federal law enforcement.
An indictment is an allegation based upon a finding of probable cause by a grand jury. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted.
If convicted, the defendant faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine per count of animal fighting charges. The investigation is ongoing.