The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Two sentenced to 18 months in dogfighting ring that spanned D.C., Maryland and Virginia

This evidence photo presented in federal court in Richmond shows Cookie Monster, a dog authorities said was used in a dogfighting ring. (The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia)

The 7-year-old boy’s favorite family dog was Cookie Monster. So one night in April of 2016, his father took him to a yard in King George, Va., to watch Cookie Monster fight two other dogs to the death.

Odell Anderson was confident his son wouldn’t have to see Cookie Monster die, he later told FBI agents — in 307 such fights, his dog had only lost three times. He was right; the other two dogs in that fight died of their injuries. One was left in a dumpster.

“I can go until my dog kill[s] your dog,” Anderson said during a raid on his Northeast Washington home two months later, according to court papers. “My dog bites you anywhere they can bite you to win.”

On Wednesday in federal court in Richmond, Anderson, 52, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for his role in a dogfighting ring that operated in Virginia, Maryland and the District from about 2013 to 2018, when it was dismantled. Five people have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from one to two years in the case; one man is awaiting sentencing.

“Dog fighting is a form of cruelty with no place in our society,” Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division said in a statement. “This cruelty will not be tolerated, nor will exposing a child to such horrific acts.”

But federal prosecutors also said such cases have been relatively rare in the 14 years since Congress made dogfighting a felony crime and football star Michael Vick went to prison for participating in the underground activity. In court records, prosecutors Olivia Norman and Shennie Patel identify only a few dozen such federal cases nationwide. Sentences are often higher than suggested guidelines; a Georgia dogfighter was recently sentenced to more than 10 years in prison after hanging a dog who refused to continue to attack another.

How the Michael Vick case changed animal welfare

Anderson “misguidedly considered dog fighting to be a hobby, from which he derived no significant income,” defense attorney Christopher Griffiths said in a sentencing memorandum. “Clearly, he failed to comprehend the gravity of his conduct.”

Gene Rossi, who represented co-defendant Emmanuel Powe, said his client did use dogfighting as a source of income — “for the financial benefit of the education of his children.” Powe was also sentenced Wednesday to 18 months in prison.

Anderson was breeding and keeping dogs for fighting from 2013 until his home was raided in 2016, according to court records; the other co-conspirators were engaged in dogfighting through 2018. Authorities said fights were held in various places across the D.C. region.

According to prosecutors, there were at least two complaints about animal cruelty at Anderson’s home during that time; he said he was training dogs for weight-pulling competitions, and no charges were filed.

His and other defendants’ dogs were kept close together, with untreated wounds and little ability to move.

The four dogs seized from Anderson’s home were kept outside in all weather, according to court records; Powe kept 10 dogs in a dark, dirty garage and basement in Frederick, Md. Authorities seized one dog from co-defendant Chester A. Moody Jr., 47, although prosecutors said the number of crates and leashes on his Glenn Dale, Md., property indicated that he had at some point had many more. Moody was sentenced in August to one year and one day in prison.

Four of those dogs were euthanized after they were determined to be too aggressive toward other dogs for rehabilitation.

The host of the King George fight, prosecutors say, had a dozen dogs of his own — half of those dogs had to be euthanized.

The owner of one dog who died in the April 2016 fight pleaded guilty to related crimes in New Jersey; he had 18 dogs.

“They lived in terrible conditions and were meant to serve only one purpose: being part of a dog fighting venture,” prosecutors wrote. “Dog fighting involves taking advantage of pit-bull type dogs’ eagerness to please humans, all for gambling purposes, possible financial gain, or a disturbing form of ‘entertainment.’ ”

A child on a bike was struck in a D.C. crosswalk — again

Slurs blare near a Black family’s home. Why isn’t it a ‘hate crime’?

D.C. tests whether a spending boost can solve a homelessness crisis