A Lincoln County man has been sentenced to prison after admitting that he operated a cockfighting venue.
Lanier Augustus Hightower Jr., 65, of Lincolnton, Ga., was sentenced to 14 months in prison after pleading guilty to Sponsoring and Exhibiting an Animal in an Animal Fighting Venture, said Acting U.S. Attorney David H. Estes. U.S. District Court Chief Judge J. Randal Hall also ordered Hightower to pay a fine of $500, prohibited him from owning or keeping any birds or fowl or attending any events related to birds or cockfighting, and to serve two years of supervised release after completion of his prison term. There is no parole in the federal system.
“This sentence sends a strong message that animal fighting will not be tolerated in the Southern District of Georgia,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Estes. “In coordination with our law enforcement partners, we will target and eliminate these barbaric operations and hold the organizers and participants accountable.”
As described in court documents and testimony, Hightower worked with others in sponsoring a Dec. 14, 2019 cockfight on his farm in Lincoln County. The federal indictment in that case named Hightower and 38 codefendants and remained sealed until June 2020 when multiple law enforcement agencies, led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of the Inspector General, raided the cockfighting venue called Little Sunset in Midville, Ga., operated by William Shannon Scott, 48. Scott operated his venture on alternating weekend schedules with another venue called The Red Barn, owned by Wendell Allan Strickland, 67, of Swainsboro, Ga.,
Scott and Strickland both have pled guilty to charges related to the cockfighting ventures and await sentencing in U.S. District Court.
As part of his plea agreement, Hightower will forfeit to the U.S. Government the 100.04 acres of land in Lincoln County where the cockfights were held. Both Scott and Strickland also face forfeiture of their farms as part of their sentences.
“The brutal practice of watching animals mutilate each other to death holds no entertainment value and will not be tolerated,” said Jason Williams, Special Agent in Charge, USDA-OIG. “This prosecution should serve as notice that our agency, in conjunction with our state and federal partners, will hold these individuals accountable for their interest in this heinous blood sport.”
Chief Judge Hall ordered Hightower to report to prison Nov. 8.
The cases are being investigated by the USDA-OIG and prosecuted for the United States by Assistant U.S. Attorney Xavier A. Cunningham and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Rock.