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Owner of large Kentucky cockfighting pit pleads guilty, agrees to dismantle venue

The operator of a major cockfighting venue in Eastern Kentucky has pleaded guilty and agreed to dismantle the facility.

Robert Dwayne Baker pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Pikeville to one charge of conspiring to operate a cockfighting facility in Letcher County.

Baker also agreed to forfeit $15,395 that authorities confiscated during a search in February 2022 and to pay $70,000 in lieu of the federal government taking the property.

The venue was known variously as Isom, the Whitesburg Chicken Pit or American Testing Facility, according to court records.

It was thought to be one of the largest in Eastern Kentucky at one point, according to a sworn statement by Zachary Bryson, a Kentucky State Police officer on a task force with the FBI.

Baker’s brother built the cockfighting arena and operated it with help from Baker and others, according to court records.

Participants in a cockfight in Clay County, Kentucky, prepare to release their roosters. A group called Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) shot the photo without participants’ knowledge.
Participants in a cockfight in Clay County, Kentucky, prepare to release their roosters. A group called Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) shot the photo without participants’ knowledge.

The venue had stadium-style seating for an estimated 500 people, a concession stand, a main fighting pit, a station to weigh roosters and an area to sharpen the metal gaffs attached to their legs during fights, used to slash opponents.

Baker inherited the pit in February 2022.

Federal and state authorities have done undercover investigations of cockfighting in Eastern Kentucky, according to Bryson’s affidavit.

An undercover officer at a venue in Clay County got information from the operators, Millard Oscar Hubbard and Timothy Sizemore, that ultimately led to the cockfighting venture near Whitesburg, according to the affidavit.

A gaff is a sharp metal device that cockfighters attach to roosters’ legs to slash and stab opponents during bloody fights.
A gaff is a sharp metal device that cockfighters attach to roosters’ legs to slash and stab opponents during bloody fights.

Among other things, police got access to a schedule indicating there were 38 fight dates scheduled between Nov. 6, 2021 and July 30, 2022.

When an undercover officer went to a fight on Feb. 5, 2022, it cost $25 to get in and there were about 400 people at the venue.

More than 70 individuals or teams had entered roosters to fight. Each had to pay an entry of $600 for six roosters, and competed for a pot of $45,600 while spectators gambled on the fights, according to Bryson’s statement.

There were more than 80 roosters entered in fights and about 200 spectators at a fight on Feb. 26, 2022 before police broke up the operation, according to the court record.

Baker faces up to five years in prison.

Five others were indicted with Baker: Virgil G. Saylor, Tina M. Miller, Henry Locke, Brandon Honeycutt and Chris Prater.

Baker said in his plea that he hired Saylor and Miller, who were from Georgia, to organize and run the fights.

Honeycutt has filed a motion to plead guilty. The others are scheduled for trial in February.