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Rooster fight brings police

Cpl. Ken Vetzel expected to find trained fighting dogs at the home on Columbus Drive.

Instead of barks, the Hillsborough County Animal Services officer heard rooster squawks.

Property owner Jorge Morales, 39, ran an illegal cockfighting ring, complete with wager sheets, training tools and 60 roosters housed in individual wooden pens, authorities say.

"They're bred and trained to fight," Vetzel said. "They're not your typical barnyard rooster."

Morales along with Alexis Cuervo, 63, and Rafael Martinez, 28, were arrested, accused of operating a facility for baiting animals, records show.

An anonymous caller tipped off investigators Tuesday morning, but the caller said the men ran a dogfighting ring. When Vetzel went out to investigate, he stumbled upon a cockfight in progress, he said.

"I heard people and chickens and cheering in Spanish," he said.

Vetzel wasn't armed, so he called Tampa police for backup. As he waited, two cars left the property, he said. When police arrived, only Morales, Cuervo and Martinez remained. The three were arrested and taken to the Orient Road jail, records show.

Morales has no criminal history, state records show. Cuervo was twice arrested by Tampa police on charges of aggravated battery and resisting an officer.

Martinez has been arrested 22 times since 1998 on charges including domestic violence, cocaine possession and grand theft, records show.

Animal Services workers hauled off the 60 roosters and a duck. It was not clear what would be done with them, but such trained fighting animals are typically killed, Vetzel said.

Investigators found no dead roosters, and they didn't notice any major injuries on their bodies. It's hard to see a rooster's injuries, though, because of all the feathers, he said.

Researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 226-3373 or vansickle@sptimes.com.

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