Government seeks to collect $905,000 from operators of alleged illegal cockfighting arena

bestep@herald-leader.comJune 5, 2014 Updated 19 hours ago

The federal government wants to collect $905,000 from people accused of operating an illegal cockfighting business in Floyd County that was allegedly one of the largest in the nation.

A federal grand jury recently added more charges against five people who allegedly had a part in the operation.

The charges included a forfeiture count seeking $905,208 — the amount the five allegedly obtained through the illegal operation from June 2009 through May, or which could be traced to the property, according to the indictment.

The people accused in the case are Floyd County residents Walter Dale Stumbo, his wife Sonya K. Stumbo and son Joshua Dale Stumbo; and Wesley Dean Robinson and Jonathan Robinson, a father and son from Wise County, Va., which adjoins Kentucky.

The Stumbos are charged with operating a cockfighting pit at McDowell called the Big Blue Sportsmen's Club, which featured arena-style seating and a full-service restaurant.

Stan Wojtkonski, an investigator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said in a court document that the cockfighting operation was one of the largest in the country.

During a yearlong undercover investigation, police saw vehicles at Big Blue from states throughout the Southeast and as far away as Illinois, Michigan and Maryland, and Sonya Stumbo said the club had memberships on file for more than 6,000 people, Wojtkonski said.

Police raided the club just over a month ago. It has been shut down since, said Mark Wohlander, who represents Walter Dale Stumbo.

Jonathan Robinson allegedly handled gamecocks during fights at the Floyd County club, while his father sold gaffs there. Gaffs are sharp, curved spears that owners attach to the legs of fighting birds so they can slash opponents.

"Due to the enhanced stabbing and slashing ability bestowed upon the birds by the manmade weapons, cockfighting is an extremely painful, bloody, and deadly event," Wojtkonski said in his statement. "Birds are stabbed, slashed open, eviscerated, and partially decapitated."

The Stumbos and Robinsons are charged with conspiring to exhibit or sponsor animals in an illegal fighting venture and with conspiring to conduct an illegal gambling business. They also are charged with taking part in transporting gaffs and birds across the state line.

Jonathan Robinson is charged alone in one count with selling pain pills.

All five have pleaded not guilty.

The charges were filed in Virginia, but Wohlander said he will seek to have the case transferred to Eastern Kentucky.

Cockfighting is a felony in Virginia, but is only a misdemeanor in Kentucky, and there has been debate for more than 20 years on whether an improper veto of a cockfighting measure means it's actually legal in Kentucky.

That could become an element of the defense in the case if it is heard in Kentucky.

Wohlander said the defense also disputes the amount of money the government wants to seize in the case.

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1

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