ST. LOUIS (AP) -- An eastern Missouri man arrested as part of a crackdown on dogfighting in several states pleaded guilty Monday, and three other suspects were expected to enter guilty pleas later in the day.
Teddy Kiriakidis, 50, of Leasburg, pleaded guilty to one count of dogfighting conspiracy in U.S. District Court in St. Louis. Sentencing will be in December.
Court appearances were also scheduled for Monday for 55-year-old Robert Hackman, of Foley; 34-year-old Ronald Creach, of Leslie; and 38-year-old Michael Morgan, of Hannibal. Documents filed in the case and interviews with attorneys for the suspects indicated they would also plead guilty.
A grand jury indicted the four men, along with Jack Ruppel, 35, of Eldon, on dogfighting-related charges this summer in St. Louis. Ruppel pleaded guilty on Sept. 4 to a conspiracy charge and to selling an animal for a fighting venture. His attorney, Timothy Cisar, said Ruppel pleaded guilty "because he is guilty."
Twenty-six people were charged and more than 500 dogs were seized in July following raids in Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas.
U.S. attorneys accused them of cruelties that included shooting dogs in the head when they didn't fight well. The Missouri men are the first to plead guilty in the crackdown, and none of the other cases have so far gone to trial.
The Humane Society of Missouri and other groups are caring for the dogs. The St. Louis-based Humane Society of Missouri has more than 400 dogs taken from suspects in Missouri and Illinois. Spokeswoman Jeane Jae said about 100 puppies have been born to some of those animals since the raids.
Federal judges overseeing separate civil forfeiture proceedings will determine who has rightful claims to the confiscated dogs. They'll also consider the recommendations of animal behavior experts on whether the dogs are suitable for adoption.
Dogfighting has come under renewed scrutiny since NFL star Michael Vick was convicted and served prison time for running a dogfighting ring. Vick, who now plays with the Philadelphia Eagles, is working with the Humane Society of the United States to stop organized animal fighting.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)