COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The ringleader of a Swansea cockfighting operation and six others pled guilty on Friday for their roles in cockfights in Williamsburg and Lexington Counties, according to federal prosecutors.
Pleading guilty was Gene Jeffcoat, 82, of Swansea, Johnny Harrison, 35, of Aiken, Coy Robinson, 31, of Blackstock, Jimmie Hicks, 23, of Swansea, Roy Wilson, 51, and Mary Braddock, 55, both of Hollywood, and Wade McGee, 34, of Scranton.
Jeffcoat pled guilty to conspiring to violate the Animal Welfare Act and federal gambling laws. U.S. Attorney Kevin McDonald said Jeffcoat admitted to making the rules for the cockfighting events and controlling various aspects of the operation, which took place on his property in Swansea in 2008 and 2009.
"I'm not talking about a couple of guys in a backyard throwing down a couple of chickens, letting them go at it," then-U.S. Attorney Walt Wilkins said last year. "We're talking about organized groups, engaged in an organized illegal activity."
The remaining individuals pled guilty to animal fighting charges, admitting they participated in cockfighting. The maximum penalty each defendant faces is five years imprisonment and a fine of $250,000. A judge will sentence the defendants later this year.
The defendants are seven of 23 indicted last November on animal fighting charges. Four defendants pled guilty earlier this month. The cases are the result of a 13-month undercover investigation by state and federal authorities, during which undercover officers attended a total of eight cockfighting derbies held near Swansea in Lexington County and near Oceida in Williamsburg County.
"We had an undercover agent working for the Department of Natural Resources who attended at least 8-10 of these fights, had a lot of those on video," said Wilkins, who went on to say the fights very often resulted in death for the roosters, which wore spurs on their legs.
The remaining eleven defendants are awaiting trial, which is scheduled for April 29.
South Carolina is among 11 states where cockfighting is still a misdemeanor, according to the Humane Society of the United States. While state legislators have repeatedly defeated proposals to make it a felony, they did increase the penalties in 2006. This is the first state and federal cockfighting investigation since that law was signed.