Brent Easterling Sentenced to Two Years in Federal Prison, Tyler Easterling Gets 20 Months, for operating fight pits, illegally possessing thousands of fighting birds, and trafficking in fighting birds and implements
Montgomery, Alabama — Animal Wellness Action (AWA) and allied groups congratulated federal prosecutors for securing federal prison time for major cockfighting operators from Verbena, Alabama for their deep involvement in staged animal fighting ventures. Brent Easterling, the most visible member of a larger family enmeshed in the business of cockfighting, was sentenced by Honorable Judge Myron H. Thompson to 24 months in federal prison. Judge Thompson also sentenced Billy Easterling to 22 months and Tyler Easterling to 20 months. Jim Easterling was sentenced to three years home confinement. Several women in the Easterling family who were knowingly involved in the enterprise were sentenced to probation.
Animal Wellness Action provided compelling evidence to the federal government that aided the government’s investigation and prosecution.
“Every cockfighter in the United States should pay attention to what has happened to an Alabama family that was knee-deep in the enterprise of cockfighting,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action. “These cockfighters have lost their assets and their freedom. That’s the potential fate of anyone involved in the barbaric practice of staged animal fighting. We thank the Department of Justice and other federal law enforcement actors for advocating for treating these crimes with the seriousness they deserve..”
Last year the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama and prosecutors from the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice charged the Easterlings with conspiracy to violate federal anti-animal fighting laws, including operating fighting pits on their properties, possessing thousands of fighting animals, transporting those animals across the globe for fighting, and trafficking in cockfighting implements.
USDA’s Office of Inspector General and Homeland Security Investigations conducted extensive investigations on the Easterlings prior to the filing of federal charges against them. In early June 2020, Animal Wellness Action and the Animal Wellness Foundation released a detailed report identifying Brent Easterling as a major trafficker in fighting animals and implements. The groups presented extensive evidence to the United States about his involvement and shared a dossier on him with the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama and with other federal law enforcement officials. The national animal protection organization Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) also investigated the Easterlings and obtained extensive footage of their operations with the use of drones.
AWA obtained a video of Brent Easterling interviewing with a Philippines-based cockfighting channel BNTV talking about his fighting birds and marketing them to worldwide audiences. AWA also obtained BNTV videos where 10 other cockfighters in Alabama extolling the prowess of their fighting birds. BNTV made 50 videos with U.S.-based cockfighters in recent years, and 11 of them came from Alabama-based cockfighters.
“We will continue to work with the U.S. Department of Justice, and no one involved in these activities should feel that they are immune from the hand of the law,” added Marty Irby, executive director of Animal Wellness Action and a native Alabamian from Mobile. “Given the Yellowhammer State’s anti-cockfighting law warrants less in the way of penalties than a parking ticket, it’s vital that the federal government stepped in and delivered justice.”
“Federal law makes it a felony to stage animal fights, possess animals for fighting, and sell them to others to fight,”said Steve Hindi, president of SHARK. “The Easterling clan was involved in all those activities and more. We congratulate the U.S. Department of Justice and other federal law enforcement personnel for prosecuting this set of individuals and seeing that the anti-cruelty laws of the United States are enforced.”
Earlier this year, the United States filed pleadings with the court that included plea agreements from the Easterlings, admitting their involvement in a range of illegal animal fighting activities.
Animal Wellness Action notes that the Easterlings made hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps millions, on the illicit sale of fighting birds. Brent Easterling frequently transported his birds to Mexico, which is a major destination for U.S.-reared fighting animals and participated in fighting derbies all over the world, as a means of marketing the birds he raised and trained to be cut up in fights.
While the Easterlings were one of America’s biggest cockfighting syndicates, they are part of a far larger network of animal fighters in Alabama and throughout the United States that have made America the breeding ground for the global cockfighting industry. While some are destined for fighting pits in the U.S., hundreds of thousands of birds move from cockfighting farms here to dozens of nations throughout the world. AWA’s June 2020 reported on several Alabamians, including Jerry Adkins of Slick Lizard Farms, who told a Filipino television broadcaster that he sells 6,000 birds a year to Mexico alone. With some birds fetching as much as $2000 each, those illegal transactions could generate millions in gross sales.
Under current federal law, it is a crime to:
- Knowingly sponsor or exhibit an animal in a fighting venture;
- Knowingly attend an animal fighting venture, or knowingly cause an individual who has not attained the age of 16 to attend an animal fighting venture;
- Knowingly buy, sell, possess, train, transport, deliver, or receive any animal for purposes of having the animal participate in an animal fighting venture;
- Knowingly use the mail service of the U.S. Postal Service, or any “written, wire, radio televisions or other form of communications in, or using a facility of, interstate commerce,” to advertise an animal for use in an animal fighting venture, or to advertise a knife, gaff, or other sharp instrument designed to be attached to the leg of a bird for us in an animal fighting venture, or to promote or in any other manner further an animal fighting venture except as performed outside the U.S.;
- Knowingly sell, buy, transport, or deliver in interstate or foreign commerce “a knife, gaff, or any other sharp instrument” designed or intended to be attached to the leg of a bird for us in an animal fighting venture.
Penalties for each violation of any one of these provisions allows for a maximum of 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for perpetrators, except for an adult attending an animal fighting venture. Penalties for an adult in attendance are 1 year in prison and a $5,000 fine.
In November, Reps. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, and Don Bacon, R-Neb., introduced legislation, H.R. 9309, to strengthen the federal law against animal fighting. Reps. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., Troy Carter, D-La., Buddy Carter, R-Ga., Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Nancy Mace, R-S.C., Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and Mike Quigley, D-Ill., join them as original cosponsors of the legislation to crack down on staged combat between animals. The proposed amendments to Section 26 of the Animal Welfare Act would fortify an already strong federal law and enhancement enforcement of the law by:
- banning simulcasting and gambling on animal fights in the United States, no matter where the fights and broadcasts originate;
- halting the shipment of mature roosters shipped through the U.S. mail;
- creating a citizen suit provision to allow private right of action against illegal animal fighters and ease the resource burden on federal agencies; and
- enhancing forfeiture provisions to include real property used in the commission of an animal fighting crime.