FRESNO (CBS SF) — A Ceres man whose Central Valley farm housed thousands of roosters trained for cockfighting and who admitted to illegally shipping birds to Mexico, Peru and the Philippines has pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges.

Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert said 74-year-old Joseph D. Sanford, pleaded guilty on Friday to conspiring to violate the Animal Welfare Act by operating a cockfighting and fighting-bird breeding business.

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According to court documents, Sanford was the owner and operator of Joe Sanford Gamefarm in Ceres, where he lived, bred and sold gamecocks for cockfighting. He also fought his own roosters.

Following an undercover purchase of a trio of fighting game birds, federal agents searched the farm and found a large cockfighting enterprise consisting of 2,956 game fowl. In pleading guilty, Sanford acknowledged that he had shipped game fowl within the United States and to Mexico, Peru and the Philippines for cockfighting.

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“The gruesome act of animal fighting has no place in a civilized society and will not be tolerated,” said Dusty Cladis, Acting Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of the Inspector General. “Our agency has prioritized dismantling animal fighting organizations as we continue to pursue those who would take pleasure and profit in inflicting misery and death upon these defenseless creatures.”

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and U.S. Marshals Service also lent assistance in the disposal of the fighting roosters and placement of the hens in an animal sanctuary.

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Sanford is scheduled for sentencing on March 11, 2022. He faces a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.