Dogfighting’s sizable ring

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Through all attempts to cover his tracks secretive lingo, coded Internet chatter, a move from Pennsylvania to Texas Thomas Weigner was intently pursued by a vigilant group of animal-loving sleuths.

For years, they suspected him of being a bigwig in dogfighting’s shady underworld, a breeder and trainer of fearsome canines who would rip each other apart for the amusement of their bloodthirsty masters.

But it was hard to get close to Weigner. He made sure his inner circle was limited to family and trusted friends, though he seemed to live a normal life at a well-kept brick home and 24-acre spread in rural east Texas.

Then, in the middle of a warm August night, everything came crashing down. No, it wasn’t a group of warrant-wielding lawmen who invaded Weigner’s sanctuary, looking to find the telltale signs of animal abuse and slap the cuffs on him.

These were masked, fatigue-wearing gunmen who burst into the home. They tied everyone up and began rummaging through every nook and cranny, desperate to find the $100,000 in cash that Weigner supposedly collected after one of his top dogs whipped another grand champion.

By the time the invaders fled back into the night, Weigner was crumpled on the ground, bleeding to death from a gunshot just above his right knee.

Soon the property was crawling with guys wearing badges. They were revolted at what they found when the sun came up. And they were shocked at just how far the case would lead.

It was very much an eye-opener as far as the dogfight industry and how big it actually is, said Greg Arthur, the sheriff in Liberty County,

Murder has a way of making people talk. When the Liberty County sheriff’s office began snooping for leads, they found a road that led in all directions. Pittsburgh. Atlanta. Los Angeles. Dayton, Ohio. Even Ecuador.

And they kept hearing one name in particular: Michael Vick.

Ohhhh, yes, Liberty County sheriff’s Capt. Chip Fairchild said. When we were in Dayton, they mentioned it there. In Atlanta and Pittsburgh, too. They all knew about Michael Vick being into it and sinking big dollars into it. We kept hearing that over and over. That wasn’t a trail we needed to go down, because there was no indication that he had ever been here or knew our guy [Weigner]. But our guy certainly knew people who knew Michael Vick.

For many people, dogfighting wasn’t on the radar until Vick, star quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons, got swept up in it.

In April, when investigators raided a Vick-owned home in Surry County, Va., as part of a drug investigation involving a cousin of his, they stumbled upon a clandestine kennel out back.

Sixty-six dogs, mostly pit bulls, were seized, along with evidence of an organized fighting operation: treadmills rigged up for training; break sticks that are used to pry apart the powerful jaws of fighting animals; blood-soaked carpeting that might have been used in a fighting pit; veterinary medicines for treating wounds; and rape stands, hideous contraptions used to restrain female pit bulls during the breeding process.

Vick denied any wrongdoing shortly after authorities raided his home. Since then he has declined comment on the advice of his attorney.

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