AUBURN, AL (WTVM) - An Auburn man deemed the "godfather" of high-stakes dog fighting and criminal conspiracy was sentenced to eight years in federal prison by U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins.
Animal rights groups say the judge is sending a historic and strong warning to dog fighters all over the country, by going well above sentencing guidelines.
Friday's hearing uncovered more disturbing details of the sport.
Prosecutors say 50-year-old Donnie Anderson of Auburn organized and hosted 80 fights, where 480 pit bulls fought to generate money and amusement for hundreds of spectators. Bets averaged $100,000 per fight.
As the host, Anderson was responsible for executing the losers. In dog fighting, losing dogs are electrocuted, shot, drowned or hanged to keep the winning blood lines strong.
"We heard testimony of Mr. Anderson killing at least one dog by hanging that dog from his collar attached to a leash on a tree branch," said Tim Rickey, VP Field Investigator with ASPCA.
Last year, Anderson and 13 others were arrested in the second largest dog fighting bust in America history: 367 pit bulls were seized, and 135 dogs and puppies were taken from Anderson's property.
Prosecutors say their living conditions were horrendous, their health even worse. Scarred from fighting, emaciated, full of parasites, and heavily chained, half of the dogs died or had to be put down.
"People have a really tough time believing and understanding the true brutality and barbarians involved in this, but I also think the public fails to understand the scope of the people," Rickey said. "This is not an isolated event in Alabama, it is happening all over the country much more frequently than people would understand."
Judge Watkins showed a horrific picture of one of the dogs killed during an Anderson fight, as he sentenced him to eight years in federal prison, three years' probation where he can't own a dog.
The judge called Anderson's actions extraordinary cruel, calling the six to 12 month sentencing guidelines inadequate for the number of dogs he brutalized.
Rickey, who raided Anderson's dog yard, says the sentence is historic and sends a strong message. He also asks families to realize this is a "people" problem, not a "pit bull breed" problem.
"There are many wonderful pit bulls out there in the country in shelters that need loving homes," Rickey said. "I ask that people not to ignore them. We know this breed can bring a lot of joy to a family as long as it is in the hands of a loving and responsible owner."
Anderson was also accused of buying and selling drugs at his fights. He remains out on bond until he reports to prison in January.
Sentencing hearings continue next week with more defendants involved in this massive, multi-state dog fighting bust that began with an investigation in Auburn.