New Jersey, New Mexico, and Indiana Defendants Convicted As Part of Operation Grand Champion

TRENTON, N.J. FBI release – Four men were convicted at trial in connection with their respective roles in a multi-state dog fighting operation, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito and Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division announced today.

Justin Love, 38, of Sewell, New Jersey; Robert A. Elliott Sr., 49, of Millville, New Jersey; Dajwan Ware, 45, of Fort Wayne, Indiana; and Robert Arellano, 64, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, were convicted Oct. 16, 2018, of engaging in a conspiracy to sponsor and exhibit dogs in animal fighting ventures and to buy, sell, possess, train, transport, deliver and receive dogs for purposes of having the dogs participate in animal fighting ventures. The jury also found Love and Arellano guilty of unlawfully trafficking in fighting dogs and defendants Love and Elliott of unlawfully possessing fighting dogs. The jury deliberated six hours following a three-week trial before U.S. District Judge Peter G. Sheridan in Trenton federal court. The four defendants convicted today are the last to be adjudicated in this case, which is part of Operation Grand Champion, an ongoing multi-state dog fighting investigation.

“Dog fighting is vicious and cruel. And beyond the needless suffering it inflicts on animals, it exacts a toll on local animal shelters, humane organizations, and the taxpayers of New Jersey,” U.S. Attorney Carpenito said. “The message from these convictions is simple: if you fight dogs in New Jersey, you will face prosecution and imprisonment.”

“Under the leadership of Attorney General Sessions, our Division is aggressively pursuing those who engage in the cruel and brutal practice of dog fighting, which is often linked with many forms of violent and organized criminal activity,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division said. “Yesterday’s four convictions demonstrate our firm commitment to fight back against those who would abuse these animals, in clear violation of federal law, to satiate bloodthirsty spectators and gamblers. I applaud the law enforcement officers and prosecutors who worked tirelessly to deliver justice in these cases.”

“The provisions of the Animal Welfare Act were designed to protect animals from being used in illegal fighting ventures,” Special Agent in Charge Bethanne M. Dinkins for U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General said. “Together with the Department of Justice, animal fighting is an investigative priority for USDA OIG, and we will work with our law enforcement partners to investigate and assist in the criminal prosecution of those who participate in animal fighting ventures.”

“This is a great example of interagency cooperation—in this case USDA and Cherry Hill HSI—stopping a barbaric practice that permanently damages and often kills dogs,” said Brian Michael, Special Agent in Charge, HSI Newark. “Those who engage in this heinous activity should know that they face serious legal consequences.”

According to documents filed in this case and the evidence at trial:

Arellano sold and shipped two fighting dogs to Love and conspirator Anthony “Monte” Gaines by air cargo in December 2014. One of those dogs was subsequently fought in a “roll” or test fight the following day, and sustained a serious injury. Gaines also transported a fighting dog named “Bubbles” to Dajwan Ware in order to hide her from law enforcement after local authorities in New Jersey located Gaines’s dog fighting yard. Elliott Sr. housed a fighting dog named “Fancy” on behalf of Gaines and conspirator Frank Nichols, and possessed 12 fighting dogs of his own.

The phrase “Grand Champion” is used by dog fighters to refer to a dog with more than five dog fighting “victories.” To date, 123 dogs have been rescued as part of Operation Grand Champion, and either surrendered or forfeited to the government.

Each conviction carries a maximum of five years in prison and a criminal fine of up to $250,000. Five other defendants in the case previously pleaded guilty to dog fighting and firearms charges and have been sentenced. Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 20, 2019.

U.S. Attorney Carpenito and Assistant Attorney General Clark credited special agents of the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Office of Inspector General; the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – Homeland Security Investigations, and the FBI with the investigation leading to today’s convictions.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen O’Leary of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark and Trial Attorney Ethan Eddy of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section.

Defense counsel:

Arellano: Samuel Bregman Esq., Albuquerque, New Mexico
Elliott: Ronald Thompson Esq., Sicklerville, New Jersey
Love: Wayne Powell Esq., Cherry Hill, New Jersey
Ware: Thomas Ambrosio Esq., Lyndhurst, New Jersey