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Three arrested on suspicion of cockfighting in Nipomo

dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Three men were arrested Tuesday in a probe of an alleged cockfighting operation in Nipomo that turned up about 600 birds, according to the county Sheriff’s Department.

The men are Paul Andrew Castellanos, 47, of Nipomo; Andy Ybarra Castellanos, 77, of Nipomo; and Juan Manuel Leva-Corral, 63, of Santa Maria.

Investigators from several local law enforcement agencies and the Humane Society of the Unites States reportedly found the birds at 1120 Grace Lane along with fighting implements, including sharp blades and spurs typically used in cockfighting. Magazines focusing on the illegal sport were found there as well, authorities said.

The roosters were discovered on the property, a 19-acre farm with strawberry fields, which had a ring where the birds may have allegedly fought or were trained to fight.

Both Castellanos men, who live at the Grace Lane property, were booked into County Jail on suspicion of possession of birds with intent to fight and cockfighting implements.

Leva-Corral was booked on suspicion of possession of fighting birds.

Some of the roosters will be kept on site with documentation and oversight of law enforcement officials; others will be turned over to the San Luis Obispo County Division of Animal Services for evidence.

The farm had overhead lighting in an outdoor area near a suspected sparring area, said Eric L. Sakach, a senior law enforcement officer with the Humane Society.

“This is a fairly large operation,” Sakach said. “These birds are colorful, beautiful birds. It’s a shame they’re being used to slash each other to death.”

Cockfighting historically has been a problem in South County, and authorities are on the lookout for it there, especially because it can be associated with other crimes, including international sales of the birds and illegal drugs, Sheriff’s Department spokesman Rob Bryn said.

On Jan. 28, 2009, Humane Society investigators conducted a bust that resulted in five arrests at a property on Joshua Street in Nipomo, where more than 1,216 fighting birds were documented — one of the largest operations in California history.

On Jan. 31 of this year, authorities were tipped off to a gathering of hundreds for a cockfight on the Nipomo Mesa off Los Berros Road. The crowd there fled, and about 50 people were arrested.

Sakach, a 34-year veteran in his field, said that cockfighting has a history worldwide dating back thousands of years, including in many European countries and ancient Rome.

Cockfighting is illegal in many countries, but legal in some, including Mexico. The sport crosses ethnicities and nationalities, Sakach said.

Fighting events are organized for gambling and prize competitions, with spectators placing bets on the gamecocks.

Sakach displayed a black and orange rooster from the property Tuesday; it had the flap of skin on top of its head and wattle removed — an indication that the bird was being groomed for fighting.

Typically, people who pit birds against each other for fighting purposes remove the red fleshy membrane on the heads and under the beaks because it bleeds easily and catches during fights, Sakach said.

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