Drug case leads investigators to Middle Georgia dog fighting ring. 5 men get prison time

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Five Middle Georgia men were sentenced to federal prison for being part of a “large-scale dog fighting operation,” the U.S. Department of Justice announced Wednesday.

“The intentional infliction of pain and suffering on animals for sport is unfathomable,” said Miles Davis, special agent-in-charge of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s office of inspector general.

The case started as an investigation into a drug-trafficking conspiracy, but that led to the discovery of 96 dogs from Johnson, Laurens and Washington counties, said Jill Steinberg, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia.

Two of the men involved also were sentenced in connection with the drug trafficking.

“Animal fighting operations often occur in conjunction with other illegal activity,” Steinberg said in a press release. “In this case, holding these defendants accountable protects the welfare of these rescued animals while also removing dangerous drugs from the community.”

Travis Martin, 43; Sentell Carey, 41; Dennis Wilcher, 42; Terry Gilmore, 28; and Jonathan Linder, 35; were each sentenced by a federal judge after they pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Violate the Animal Welfare Act.

Martin, called the leader of the drug-trafficking ring who is from Wrightsville, was fined $1,000 and sentenced to two years in prison for the dog fighting. Judge Dudley Bowen ordered that he serve the two years in addition to a sentence of more than 16 years for the drug trafficking conspiracy, according to a press release.

Carey, from Wrightsville, was also involved in the drug trafficking and is serving a sentence of probation for it. He was fined $2,000 and sentenced to a year and a half in prison for the dog fighting.

Wilcher, from Wrightsville, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison and fined $3,000.

Gilmore, from Sandersville, was sentenced to just under two years in prison and fined $2,000.

Linder, from Rentz, was sentenced to a year and eight months in prison and fined $2,000.

The defendants are prohibited from owning dogs or engaging in any activity involving dogs, the press release said. They must serve three years of “supervised release” upon completion of their sentences with no parole.

The dogs were taken by Steinberg’s office through a civil case, and they received veterinary care and rehabilitation after the U.S. Marshals Service worked with another agency to provide the care.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General and lead agent Kelsey Tolomeo worked with the U.S. Marshals Service and local law enforcement agencies to investigate the dog fighting. This investigation was prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica K. Rock, and the “civil forfeiture of the dogs” was coordinated by Shannon Heath Statkus, civil division chief for the Southern District of Georgia.

The drug trafficking case was investigated by the Laurens County Sheriff’s Office, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Southeastern Regional Drug Enforcement Office, the Emanuel County Sheriff’s Office, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, and the Ocmulgee Drug Task Force.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer J. Kirkland.

“We appreciate the commitment of our law enforcement partners to pursue these individuals who choose to participate in these heinous acts while also committing other severe offenses in our communities,” Davis said.