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Description: Alexandria, Virginia criminal law lawyer represented Defendant charged with conspired with others from Virginia, D.C., and Maryland, used a messaging app private group, which they generally referred to as "The DMV Board" or "The Board," as a place where they and their associates could discuss training fighting dogs, exchange videos about dogfighting, and arrange and coordinate dog fights, away from the view of law enforcement authorities. Members of The DMV Board also used the messaging app to compare methods of killing dogs that lost fights, as well as to circulate media reports about conspirators who had been caught by law enforcement and discuss methods to minimize the likelihood that they would be caught themselves.
In June 2017, Laron Mecco "Frog" West, age 46, from Forestville, Maryland, posted on the DMV Board that “we kill” fighting dogs that quit. In October 2018, West posted on the DMV Board that dogs that failed to fight aggressively enough had been killed. West wrote that he “loves to throw [the dogs] over the bridge and into the water.”
The DMV Board also used the messaging app to compare methods of killing dogs that lost fights, as well as to circulate media reports about conspirators who had been caught by law enforcement and discuss methods to minimize the likelihood that they would be caught themselves.
Court documents further reflect that, in March 2018, West drove coconspirator Charles Edward Williams, III, of Capitol Heights, Maryland, to a warehouse in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where Williams entered his dog into a dogfight attended by dozens of people. In November 2018, Williams warned members of the DMV Board to be sure to confirm the death of the dogs that they try to kill upon losing a fight.
In April 2019, Williams and coconspirator Michael Roy Hilliard, 37, of Fort Washington, drove to Bunnlevel, North Carolina, with a dog belonging to Williams, so that he could enter the dog in a dog fight. The fight lasted less than 10 minutes before being won by the dog belonging to Williams. An unindicted conspirator shot and killed the dog that lost the fight.
In August, West, Williams, Hilliard, and four others were indicted for a dogfighting conspiracy involving the “DMV Board.” Earlier this month, Williams and Hilliard pleaded guilty to the same conspiracy as West. Trial for three of the remaining defendants is set for December 6.
West, Williams, and Hilliard are each scheduled to be sentenced on February 21, 2023. Each faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
Jessica D. Aber, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Wayne A. Jacobs, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office, made the announcement after U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema accepted the plea.
Significant assistance was provided by The U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Cristina Stam and Gordon Kromberg are prosecuting the case.
7:2156(b) and 18:49 Training and Transporting Dogs for Participation in an Animal Fighting Venture
18 U.S.C. 371 provides:
If two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.
If, however, the offense, the commission of which is the object of the conspiracy, is a misdemeanor only, the punishment for such conspiracy shall not exceed the maximum punishment provided for such misdemeanor.
7 U.S.C. 2156 provides:
(a) Sponsoring or exhibiting an animal in, attending, or causing an individual who has not attained the age of 16 to attend, an animal fighting venture
(1) Sponsoring or exhibiting
It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly sponsor or exhibit an animal in an animal fighting venture.
(2) Attending or causing an individual who has not attained the age of 16 to attendIt shall be unlawful for any person to—
(A) knowingly attend an animal fighting venture; or
(B) knowingly cause an individual who has not attained the age of 16 to attend an animal fighting venture.
(b) Buying, selling, delivering, possessing, training, or transporting animals for participation in animal fighting venture
It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly sell, buy, possess, train, transport, deliver, or receive any animal for purposes of having the animal participate in an animal fighting venture.
(c) Use of Postal Service or other interstate instrumentality for promoting or furthering animal fighting venture
It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly use the mail service of the United States Postal Service or any instrumentality of interstate commerce for commercial speech for purposes of advertising an animal, or an instrument described in subsection (d), for use in an animal fighting venture, promoting  or in any other manner furthering an animal fighting venture except as performed outside the limits of the States of the United States.
(d) Buying, selling, delivering, or transporting sharp instruments for use in animal fighting venture
It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly sell, buy, transport, or deliver in interstate or foreign commerce a knife, a gaff, or any other sharp instrument attached, or designed or intended to be attached, to the leg of a bird for use in an animal fighting venture.
(e) Investigation of violations by Secretary; assistance by other Federal agencies; issuance of search warrant; forfeiture; costs recoverable in forfeiture or civil action
The Secretary or any other person authorized by him shall make such investigations as the Secretary deems necessary to determine whether any person has violated or is violating any provision of this section, and the Secretary may obtain the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of the Treasury, or other law enforcement agencies of the United States, and State and local governmental agencies, in the conduct of such investigations, under cooperative agreements with such agencies. A warrant to search for and seize any animal which there is probable cause to believe was involved in any violation of this section may be issued by any judge of the United States or of a State court of record or by a United States magistrate judge within the district wherein the animal sought is located. Any United States marshal or any person authorized under this section to conduct investigations may apply for and execute any such warrant, and any animal seized under such a warrant shall be held by the United States marshal or other authorized person pending disposition thereof by the court in accordance with this subsection. Necessary care including veterinary treatment shall be provided while the animals are so held in custody. Any animal involved in any violation of this section shall be liable to be proceeded against and forfeited to the United States at any time on complaint filed in any United States district court or other court of the United States for any jurisdiction in which the animal is found and upon a judgment of forfeiture shall be disposed of by sale for lawful purposes or by other humane means, as the court may direct. Costs incurred for care of animals seized and forfeited under this section shall be recoverable from the owner of the animals (1) if he appears in such forfeiture proceeding, or (2) in a separate civil action brought in the jurisdiction in which the owner is found, resides, or transacts business.
(f) DefinitionsIn this section—
(1) the term “animal fighting venture” means any event, in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, that involves a fight conducted or to be conducted between at least 2 animals for purposes of sport, wagering, or entertainment, except that the term “animal fighting venture” shall not be deemed to include any activity the primary purpose of which involves the use of one or more animals in hunting another animal;
(2) the term “instrumentality of interstate commerce” means any written, wire, radio, television or other form of communication in, or using a facility of, interstate commerce;
(3) the term “State” means any State of the United States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and any territory or possession of the United States; 
(4) the term “animal” means any live bird, or any live mammal, except man.
(g) Relationship to other provisions
The conduct by any person of any activity prohibited by this section shall not render such person subject to the other sections of this chapter as a dealer, exhibitor, or otherwise.
(h) Conflict with State law
(1) In general
The provisions of this chapter shall not supersede or otherwise invalidate any such State, local, or municipal legislation or ordinance relating to animal fighting ventures except in case of a direct and irreconcilable conflict between any requirements thereunder and this chapter or any rule, regulation, or standard hereunder.
(i) Criminal penalties
The criminal penalties for violations of subsection (a), (b), (c), or (d) are provided in section 49 of title 18.
18 U.S.C. 49 provides:
a) In General.—
Whoever violates subsection (a)(1), (b), (c), or (d) of section 26 of the Animal Welfare Act shall be fined under this title, imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both, for each violation.
(b) Attending an Animal Fighting Venture.—
Whoever violates subsection (a)(2)(A) of section 26 of the Animal Welfare Act (7 U.S.C. 2156) shall be fined under this title, imprisoned for not more than 1 year, or both, for each violation.
(c) Causing an Individual Who Has Not Attained the Age of 16 To Attend an Animal Fighting Venture.—
Whoever violates subsection (a)(2)(B) of section 26 (7 U.S.C. 2156) of the Animal Welfare Act shall be fined under this title, imprisoned for not more than 3 years, or both, for each violation.
Outcome: 11/10/2022 65 Minute Entry for proceedings held before District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema:Change of Plea Hearing as to Laron Mecco West(5) held on 11/10/2022. U.S. appeared through Gordon Kromberg, Deft appeared with counsel Dwight Crawley. Deft w/d NGP and PG to Count 1 of the Indictment. Plea entered and accepted, Guilty Count 1. Deft advised of appeal rights. Matter referred to USPO for PSIR. Sentencing set for 2/21/2023 at 09:00 AM in Alexandria Courtroom 700 before District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema. Deft continued on current bond with added conditions: deft shall fully cooperate with prob for psi; deft shall reappear on 2/21/23 at 9:00am for sentencing. Deft directed to check in with probation and pretrial after court. (Court Reporter J. Egal.)(yguy) (Entered: 11/10/2022)
11/10/2022 66 PLEA AGREEMENT as to Laron Mecco West (5) (yguy) (Entered: 11/10/2022)
11/10/2022 67 Sealed Document (yguy) (Entered: 11/10/2022)
11/10/2022 68 Statement of Facts as to Laron Mecco West(5) (yguy) (Entered: 11/10/2022)