Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan wants to seize profits from animal cruelty

TAMPA, Fla. - The dog fighting ring bust in late November 2012 was of the largest in Hillsborough County history, with more than 100 dogs buried on the property.

According to Hillsborough County Animal Services, the property owner, Vannie Franklin, admitted to fighting dogs there for 20 years.

One of the dogs who survived, discovered chained and bloody, is now named "Rudolph" because of his wounded red nose when investigators found him.

"They're living off the backs of the animals," said Sgt. Pam Perry. "That's the bottom line."

Franklin and his nephew, Russell Franklin, faced charges for profiting off their illegal activity, similar to several other Hillsborough County residents like Jorge Ortega, charged with illegally selling horse meat, and 11 men and women arrested in Plant City on New Year's Day, busted in the middle of an active cockfight.

"There's often tens of thousands of dollars trading hands in the course of a cock or a dog fight and that's a lot of money," explained HCAS Director Ian Hallett. "If we can raise the risk involved participating in those events, then we can help prevent them."

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan believes that profit may be the only way to really crack down on animal cruelty.

The cockfighting bust behind Guadalupe Herrera's home in Plant City was his second in 4 years.

"They were basically laughing at the laws that are in place and laughing at their ability to continue these illegal enterprises," Hagan said.

Hagan plans to propose an expansion of the state contraband forfeiture statute at Wednesday's commission meeting. It would all the county to punish profitable animal cruelty cases like they do drug dealers, with the ability to seize all property used in the commission of a crime, including their homes.

"If you know you're going to lose your land, you're going to lose whatever operation is going on which may be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, I think that's going to prevent this kind of illegal activity," Hagan explained.

The idea requires a lot of legal work to make sure any action complies with the state constitution, but it's already gained the attention of several major animal rights groups, like the Humane Society of Tampa Bay and Big Cat Rescue.

"There will be people who will do these activities illegally. The issue is, the more deterrent we can create, the less it's likely to happen," said Big Cat Rescue Advisory Board Chairman Howard Baskin.

In addition to a deterrent, the statute would also bring resources back to the animals.

The second part of Hagan's proposal allows animal services to use the seized property to fund investigations and care for victims like Rudolph.

"Know that he's in good hands now," Sgt. Perry said. "He's safe and he's being taken care of the way he should be."

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