Three men plead not guilty to charges in alleged Florence cockfighting ring

  • One of hundreds of roosters seized from a suspected illegal cockfighting site in Florence is caged at MSPCA’s Nevins Farm, Tuesday, May 29, 2018, in Methuen. ASSOCIATED PRESS/ELISE AMENDOLA

  • Roosters seized from a suspected illegal cockfighting site in Florence are fed by a volunteer at MSPCA’s Nevins Farm, Tuesday, May 29, 2018, in Methuen. ASSOCIATED PRESS/ELISE AMENDOLA

Staff Writer
Published: 9/25/2020 12:37:52 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Three men suspected of raising around 400 neglected birds for cockfighting in Florence answered in court this week to animal cruelty charges for the first time since police searched a farm in 2018.

Salvador Cruz, 60, of Florence; John Mercado, 49, of Easthampton; and Miguel Rodriguez, 59, of Holyoke; each pleaded not guilty in Northampton District Court to keeping or promoting animal fighting and animal cruelty. Each arraignment took place over the telephone and all three men were released on their own recognizance. Cruz needed a Spanish interpreter.

The three men were each charged in August more than two years after Northampton police discovered over 400 birds living in squalid conditions in coops at the Ravenwold Greenhouses at 1095 Florence Road in Florence in May 2018. During an annual barn inspection on May 23, 2018, Northampton police discovered that at least one of the coops on the farm was poorly ventilated and extremely hot and that some of the chickens inside were individually caged and lacked food and water, according to court documents.

Police were told by the farm’s owner, Richard Adams, that the three chicken coops on the property were each rented by tenants. The next day, Animal Control Officer Shayla Howe wrote in court documents that she inspected one of the coops and noticed a pair of sparring gloves — a sign of training chickens for cockfighting — as well as numerous roosters with cut spurs, shaved and missing sections of feathers, scarring and intentional body modifications.

Between May 24 and May 29, Northampton police searched the three coops in question on the property. Howe wrote that each coop housed roosters in individual cages — which she said is an uncommon practice — and that all three had “unacceptable living conditions and cockfighting paraphernalia.”

“Any reasonable person would believe these birds were mistreated and neglected based on conditions in which these birds were found,” Howe wrote. She later added, “I believe these birds were being bred, housed and trained for the purposes of cockfighting.”

Northampton police interviewed Adams, the owner of Ravenwold Greenhouses, who said that his brother George had run the daily operations of the farm until his death in 2016. Adams said he let tenants operate under the agreements they had made with his brother, that he knew the tenants on a first-name basis, that there were no formal tenant or lease agreements and that all rent payments were made in cash.

According to a report written by Northampton Police Det. Adam Van Buskirk, Adams identified each of the three men as tenants of the three coops in question; Adams also allegedly did identify photos of Rodriguez and Cruz, but not of Mercado. The totality of the police investigation identified Rodriguez, Cruz and Mercado as full or co- “owners” of the coops, Van Buskirk wrote.

Rodriguez, who was reportedly identified by Adams as the tenant of two of the coops, allegedly admitted in an interview with police that he was indeed the tenant of one of the coops, but he denied any involvement with cockfighting and said he didn’t own any other birds in any other structure, according to police in court documents. Rodriguez allegedly told police he raised the chickens on the farm to sell meat, according to Van Buskirk. Rodriguez had previously been arrested in Connecticut in 2006 on a charge of cruelty to animals after police found him and 20 others engaging in cockfighting, according to court documents.

Mercado told police that he was the tenant of one of the coops but denied any involvement with cockfighting, according to Van Buskirk. He told police that he raised the birds for shows and food, and identified Rodriguez and Cruz as being tenants of the other two coops.

Cruz told police that he does mechanical work on the farm, paying $50 a month to rent the shed behind the chicken coops, Van Buskirk wrote. Cruz allegedly denied raising chickens on the farm, saying he had no association with any of the farm’s coops or its contents.

During Rodriguez’s arraignment, Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Andrew Covington said that the birds in question were forfeited during a court hearing in June 2018. The MSPCA brought the recovered birds to the MSPCA-Nevins Farm in Methuen in late May 2018. Around 190 of the recovered birds were euthanized and nearly 200 found new homes.

The penalty for keeping or promoting animal fighting is a maximum five-year state prison sentence, a maximum jail sentence of one year, a maximum fine of $1,000, or both a fine and imprisonment. The penalty for a first offense of animal cruelty is a maximum seven-year state prison sentence, a maximum two-and-a-half-year jail sentence, a maximum fine of $5,000, or both a fine and imprisonment.

All three men are due back in court on Dec. 16. Rodriguez was represented by Philip Lauro, of Springfield; Cruz was appointed attorney Carrie Lilley; and Northampton attorney John Drake represented Mercado. None of these attorneys responded to a request for comment by late Friday morning.

Michael Connors can be reached at mconnors@gazettenet.com.


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