A Floyd County man charged with helping operate what authorities called one of the nation's largest cockfighting pits pleaded guilty Thursday, according to federal court records.
Walter Dale Stumbo, 52, pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to sponsor or exhibit an animal in a fighting venture and conduct an illegal gambling business.
Stumbo and his wife and son were charged with helping run a cockfighting enterprise at McDowell called the Big Blue Sportsmen's Club.
An investigator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the business had arena-style seating, multiple fighting pits and a restaurant.
One participant said the club had memberships on file for more than 6,000 people, the investigator, Stan Wojtkonski, said in an affidavit.
Police saw vehicles from states throughout the Southeast and as far away as Michigan, Illinois and Maryland during a yearlong undercover investigation, Wojtkonski said.
The club was shut down after investigators raided it about three months ago.
Stumbo also pleaded guilty Thursday to five counts of being involved in possessing and transporting roosters across the state line from Virginia to the Big Blue club, and five counts of taking part in transporting gaffs across state lines. Gaffs are sharp knives that people attach to the legs of fighting roosters.
"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. Birds are stabbed, slashed open, eviscerated, and partially decapitated," Wojtkonski said in his statement, which was filed as an exhibit for Thursday's plea hearing.
Stumbo's son, Joshua Dale Stumbo, 25, pleaded guilty to the same charges. The two are to be sentenced in October.
Each faces up to 55 years in federal prison, according to U.S. Attorney Timothy Heaphy of Virginia.
The government wants to collect $905,000 from the people charged in the case, representing the alleged proceeds of illegal activity. The forfeiture will be resolved as part of the sentencing, said Lexington attorney Mark Wohlander, who represents Walter Dale Stumbo.
Jonathan Robinson, 33, a Wise County, Va., resident who fought birds at the Big Blue pit, pleaded guilty Thursday to several charges, including conspiracy, transporting gaffs and possessing an animal for use in an illegal fighting venture. He agreed to pay a judgment of $10,000. He is to be sentenced in October and faces up to 35 years in prison.
Robinson's father, Wesley Dean Robinson, 57, who allegedly sold gaffs at the Big Blue club, pleaded guilty in the case last month and agreed to a judgment of $50,000, according to court records. He faces up to 15 years in prison; he is to be sentenced in August.
Charges remain against Walter Dale Stumbo's wife, Sonya Stumbo, 51. She has pleaded not guilty.
Charges against the five were filed in federal court in Virginia, where the Robinsons live, even though the cockfights took place in Kentucky. Authorities said the case originated in Virginia, and the conspiracy crossed the state line.
Wojtkonski said cockfighting is a felony in Virginia, so a number of residents wanted to fight their birds in Kentucky, where it is a misdemeanor.
Two undercover investigators from Virginia posed as gamecock owners and attended a number of fights at the Big Blue pit beginning in early 2013, according to a court document.