A veterinary worker from Long Island, a Manhattan building superintendent and two other men have been charged with running a dogfighting ring after authorities said an identity theft investigation yielded an animal-abuse case.
Investigators seized 29 pit bulls and other dogs earlier this fall from cages, a closet and elsewhere in the men’s homes and found a dead dog in building superintendent Jose “Gator” Rivera’s freezer, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.’s office said Friday. Vance, in announcing the indictment, called it a case of “horrific animal abuse.”
Rivera, 55, of Manhattan, who is accused of training dogs to fight — plus stashing two loaded guns and several kilograms of heroin and fentanyl in his apartment in the building he oversaw — denies the charges and looks forward to returning to court, said his lawyer, Brian Wagner.
Prosecutors said Benito Gittens, 46, of Uniondale, who worked at a veterinary clinic, treated injured dogs so they could keep fighting and euthanized those that couldn’t recover, though he isn’t a licensed New York veterinarian or veterinary technician.
Twelve pit bulls had been recovered from Gittens' Uniondale home, as well as a treadmill and a fighting pit, prosecutors said. He also is facing charges in Nassau County for multiple guns recovered during the search.
His lawyer, Meir Moza, said Gittens was an animal lover who had worked in veterinary settings for a decade and adamantly denied any involvement in dogfighting or animal abuse. Moza suggested his client was given “the wrong information, was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“We’re hoping that the truth will come out,” and Gittens expects to be vindicated, Moza said.
Evans Fuentes, 39, of Manhattan, trained dogs, and two of the four pit bulls in his apartment were found in a closet with the door closed, according to prosecutors. His lawyer, Gary Koos, said Fuentes pleaded not guilty.
Edward “Big Myke” Johnson, 37, of Middletown, is accused of finding animals and locations for two dogfights in the Bronx, and prosecutors said he turned his own dog over to Rivera and Fuentes to train and fight. A request for comment was left for Johnson’s attorney.
Rivera and Gittens were arrested in October. Rivera was ordered held on $500,000 cash or bond after pleading not guilty to drug and weapons charges stemming from an NYPD raid on a Washington Heights apartment. Gittens was being held on $60,000 bond or $30,000 cash, according to online court records.
Fuentes and Johnson were arrested Friday, according to court records. Fuentes was released under supervision, and Johnson was released on recognizance.
None of the four men is charged with identity theft. But information on the dogfighting emerged partly from court-ordered wiretaps in the ongoing ID theft probe, prosecutors said.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is caring for the seized dogs and says it hopes many of them will ultimately be able to be adopted.