Atlanta, Georgia - A well-known dog-fighting trainer and breeder, who owned Cane Valley Kennels, was sentenced to the statutory maximum of five years in prison resulting from an investigation into a significant multi-state dog-fighting and cocaine trafficking ring.

Vernon Vegas, 49, of Suwanee, Georgia, was also sentenced to three years of supervised release to follow his imprisonment and a $10,000 fine by U.S. District Judge Tilman E. “Tripp” Self III after previously pleading guilty to conspiracy to participate in an animal fighting venture. Additionally, pursuant to his plea agreement, Vegas agreed to forfeit $116,819 in cash seized during the investigation.

“Vernon Vegas is being held accountable for his violent, illegal and inhumane actions,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This case illustrates that dog-fighting is intimately connected with the underworld of drugs and organized crime, and that the Department of Justice will investigate and prosecute it to the fullest extent of the law.”

“Vernon Vegas has received the maximum prison sentence for training others in the brutal and bloody business of dog-fighting, a world that fosters a multitude of other dangerous criminal activity,” said U.S. Attorney Peter D. Leary for the Middle District of Georgia. “Our office, working alongside local, state and federal law enforcement, will hold individuals and groups that participate in illegal dog-fighting accountable for their crimes.”

According to court documents, law enforcement investigated a criminal organization involved in both cocaine distribution and organized dog fighting based out of Roberta, Georgia, which extended into North Georgia, Florida and Alabama from May 2019 until February 2020. In February 2020, law enforcement executed 15 residential search warrants and seized more than 150 dogs that were being used for organized dog fighting.

Between October 1996 and February 2020, Vegas, the owner of Cane Valley Kennels, bred, trained, sold and transported dogs for the purpose of dog fighting, including Grand Champion “Baby Gracie,” Champion “Son of Sam 2XBis,” Champion “Spider,” Champion “Bucky Mike,” Champion “Bear,” Champion “Kocky Mike,” Champion “Fantasmin,” Champion “Julie the Great,” and one-time winner, “Brenda.” As part of his business, Vegas designed and offered a seven-week “keep” where he trained dogs for animal fighting ventures, prepared online pedigrees for the fighting dogs bred and trained at Cane Valley Kennels, provided advice to his co-conspirators on how to train dogs for purposes of engaging in animal fighting ventures and kept a multitude of training and conditioning equipment including slat mills, chains, a staple gun, hanging weight scales, break sticks, flirt poles and various medicines to treat injuries or disease sustained by dogs made to fight. Between January 2017 and February 2020, Vegas attended dog fights with co-conspirators Derrick Owens and Christopher Raines at locations in the Middle District of Georgia and advised Owens on various matters related to preparing dogs for animal fighting.

The case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Agriculture, Office of the Inspector General (USDA-OIG), the U.S. Marshals Service, the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD), the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office, the Houston County Sheriff’s Office, the Merriweather County Sheriff’s Office, the Peach County Sheriff’s Office, the Taylor County Sheriff’s Office, the Webster County Sheriff’s Office, the Byron Police Department and the Fort Valley Police Department.

Trial Attorney Banu Rangarajan of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Will Keyes for the Middle District of Georgia prosecuted the case.