Authorities swarmed a remote compound in northwest Los Angeles County and seized 7,000 birds in what officials described Tuesday as a raid on the largest illegal cockfighting cache in U.S. history.
During the search Monday in Val Verde — just west of Valencia — Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies and local animal welfare experts found syringes and steroids, which are typically used to improve the bird's combat ability. Investigators also found hordes of gaffs or "slashers," a metal spike that's attached to the rooster during a fight, said sheriff's Capt. Jeff Perry.
Many of the thousands of roosters had injuries consistent with cockfighting, and authorities also found the bloodied carcasses of several birds that had slashes and other fight wounds, Perry said.
Several living birds had respiratory diseases, and lab testing was underway to identify the infection, officials said. In addition to the gamecocks, investigators captured dogs, a goat, horses and a cow.
Other cockfighting paraphernalia was recovered, such as mobile fighting pits, as well as a shotgun that had its serial number filed off.
About 10 people were detained at the property in the 29000 block of Jackson Street. Perry described them as caretakers and "lower-level" people who provided evidence in a criminal investigation.
The property owner has been identified but has not been arrested or charged, said Perry, adding that he expects several people will face charges as the inquiry unfolds.
Authorities raided the same property in 2007 and seized about 2,700 birds, said Eric Sakach, the senior law enforcement specialist for the Humane Society of the United States. Several nearby residents recently lodged complaints with the Humane Society about suspected cockfighting at the property, and the nonprofit forwarded the complaints to L.A. County law enforcement.
The scope of the criminal probe is unclear, but in a news conference Tuesday in downtown L.A. officials noted that cockfighting is typically accompanied by an array of wrongdoing, such as tax evasion, unlawful gambling, narcotics abuse and violence.
"These crimes don't happen in a vacuum. There's always a lot of crimes that happen in the same place," said Madeline Bernstein, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles. She said that fight nights usually draw prostitution and illegal slot machines.
One or both of the gamecocks can die on a typical fight, and thousands of dollars can be wagered on a match. Raids on suspected cockfighting operations often attract headlines but are considered rare, Sakach said.
"These guys are gamblers," he said. "They bank on the idea that they're not going to get caught."
At the low end of the market, gamecocks can fetch between $75 to $150 each. Others can sell for $250 to $1,000, while birds that spawn from gamecocks with a prized reputation can sell for "well into four figures," Sakach said.
The estimated value of the birds confiscated Monday is between $350,000 to several million dollars, sheriff's Sgt. Bob Boese said.