PIKEVILLE — Court records in the McDowell cockfighting case paint a picture of a professionally-run operation, drawing people from Michigan to Florida and Texas, to the out-of-the-way McDowell arena, to spend thousands each night and wager thousands more.
Five people have been charged in U.S. District Court, in Abingdon, Va. They include Walter Dale Stumbo, his wife, Sonya Stumbo, and Joshua Stumbo, all of McDowell, as well as Wesley Dean Robinson and his son, Jonathan Robinson, both of Pound, Va. All five are each charged with one count of sponsoring an animal in an animal-fighting venture and one count of taking part in an illegal gambling business.
According to an affidavit filed by Stan Wojtkonski, a special agent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of the Inspector General, the Stumbos operated the Big Blue Sportsmen Club, at the top of Slone Mountain, just off Route 1086.
“In the experience of this affiant and the experience of other USDA agents and law enforcement officers who investigatae organized animal fighting, the Big Blue pit in Kentucky is one of the largest, most organized and lucrative illegal cockfighting enterprises in the United States,” Wojtkonski writes in the report.
A visit to the site Thursday revealed only a closed gate blocking the road, along with “closed” sign and a “Stop: No trespassing” sign. A smaller sign warned of 24-hour security monitoring.
According to statements made undercover investigators, and presumably backed up by audio and video evidence, the operation raked in cash from several fronts and took great pains to keep it secure.
The club featured a main arena, or “pit,” along with several “drag pits” off to the side, where fights that went too long were moved, so as to keep spectators interested. The club featured a full restaurant selling a breakfast and lunch menu, and also sold prescription medications for animals, such as penicillin and strychnine.
The club also made substantial efforts to fly under the radar. According the affidavit, those approved to attend the club were issued laminated cards which only said, “Parking Permit.” The club’s name was not printed on the card, so as not to draw unwanted attention in the event a card was lost.
Getting to the club, the affidavit reads, required passing through two gates. The first gate was unmanned, but the second required passing by a guard, who also took a fee, ranging in different instances in the affidavit from $20 to $40.
Inside, one of the first things visible were several photographs of people on the wall. These were pictures of known informants who were to be barred entry.
Further inside, were the many cockfights being staged, surrounded by seating for 400 people. On the dates reported in the affidavit, the events drew 250-to-300 people, including minors.
Around the fights was a flurry of betting, ranging from tens and hundreds of dollars for most matches, to thousands in some instances. The affidavit reports tales of Asian and “Mexican Mafia” bettors coming to the club, bringing briefcases full of cash for wagering.
Those putting birds into the fights would typically pay a fee of $250 for the privilege, with 100 entries in an event not uncommon. During special events, that rate would rise, such as during a “state championship” event held April 4, when the fee was $1,700. Most of the money would be distributed to the winner or winners, but the house would also take its cut.Events were often staged as two-day “derbies,” during which birds would fight in a series of matches.
Informants reported seeing the Stumbos periodically carry sacks and plastic bags full of money out of the club to a sport-utility vehicle parked outside. Once the vehicle was full, one of them would allegedly drive it to their home, located at 773 Frasures Creek Road, to deposit it in a safe.
The Stumbos were not the only ones allegedly to profit from the club. The Robinsons and others would allegedly sell metal spurs that could be attached to the fighting birds, known as “gaffs.” These would take the place of the natural spur at the back of a rooster’s foot and would be used to slash opposing roosters. The gaffs would inflict so much damage, birds were often eviscerated or partially decapitated.
According to the affidavit, Wesley Dean Robinson allegedly bragged to an informant that he would average $1,500 a weekend in gaff sales.
The club was also reportedly had an active scene for untaxed liquor and drugs.