Ceres man pleads guilty to conspiring to run an animal fighting operation


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Date: December 3, 2021

Contact: newsroom@ci.irs.gov

Fresno, CA — Joseph D. Sanford, of Ceres, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to violate the Animal Welfare Act by operating a cockfighting and fighting-bird breeding business, Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

According to court documents, Sanford was the owner and operator of Joe Sanford Gamefarm in Ceres, where he bred and sold gamecocks for cockfighting. Sanford also fought his own roosters. Following an undercover purchase of a trio of fighting game birds, federal agents searched Joe Sanford Gamefarm, where Sanford resides, and found a large cockfighting enterprise consisting of 2,956 game fowl. In pleading guilty, Sanford acknowledged that he had shipped game fowl within the United States and to Mexico, Peru and the Philippines for cockfighting.

"The gruesome act of animal fighting has no place in a civilized society and will not be tolerated," said Dusty Cladis, Acting Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of the Inspector General. "Our agency has prioritized dismantling animal fighting organizations as we continue to pursue those who would take pleasure and profit in inflicting misery and death upon these defenseless creatures."

This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of the Inspector General (USDA-OIG); with assistance from the IRS Criminal Investigation; the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service; Homeland Security Investigations; the U.S. Forest Service; and the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Office. Assistance was also provided by the Humane Society of the United States, the Placer County Animal Services, and the El Dorado County Animal Services. The U.S. Department of Justice's Environment and Natural Resources Division and U.S. Marshals Service also lent assistance in the disposal of the fighting roosters and placement of the hens in an animal sanctuary. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting the case.

Sanford is scheduled for sentencing on March 11, 2022. He faces a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.