Case Snapshot

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Prosecutor(s): Ed Kubo
Judge(s): David Ezra

For more information about the Interactive Animal Cruelty Maps, see the map notes.

Saturday, Feb 2, 2008

County: Honolulu

Charges: Felony CTA
Disposition: Convicted

Defendant/Suspect: Joseph Marty Toralba

Case Updates: 1 update(s) available

A man accused of smuggling cockfighting knives into the United States was charged Thursday under a new federal law that cracks down on animal cruelty.

The man, 39-year-old Joseph Marty Toralba, attempted to carry 263 gaffs - sharp knives tied to game birds' legs - from the Philippines to his 150-bird farm in Colfax, La., before he was arrested at the Honolulu airport Feb. 2, according to federal prosecutors.

Prosecutors believe this is the first case in the nation using the new law, which made animal fighting activities a felony instead of a misdemeanor when it went into effect in May 2007.

"A cockfight ... pits two fighting birds against each other in order for them to effectively duel to the death," said U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo. "We must act, and we will act whenever we find this type of illegal activity."

Toralba, a self-employed landscaper, faces up to three years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

His public defender, Shanlyn Park, didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment Thursday afternoon.

Customs officers found the gaffs hidden with portable gas stoves in cardboard boxes Toralba had checked in on the plane. Toralba told an officer he bought the gaffs for $125 while visiting the Philippines to attend an international cockfighting derby.

Toralba told investigators the gaffs are tied to the bird's left leg, Terrence Chu, an immigration special agent wrote in a criminal complaint.

"Generally, the two cocks fight to the death," Chu wrote.

Cockfighting is illegal in every state except for Louisiana, where the sport will also be outlawed beginning in August.

Toralba would have been safe from prosecution if he had made it back home, but the federal law can be enforced against people who transport cockfighting weapons across state lines, Kubo said.

People who participate in cockfighting can't justify their actions by saying it's part of their culture, Kubo said.

"I hear and understand their concerns about cultural heritage," he said. "This activity is clearly illegal and we have no choice."

Toralba was released on bond and allowed to travel home to Louisiana, but he must return to Honolulu to face the charges now that he's been indicted, Kubo said. His next court date hasn't been set.

Case Updates

The sentencing of a Louisiana man yesterday in the U.S. District Court in Hawaii for smuggling cockfighting gaffs was the first case in the nation to be tried under the new Animal Fighting Prohibition Act, the Hawaiian Humane Society announced.

"This case truly is a landmark case, and we are pleased that Hawaii's law enforcement officials will finally have the tool needed to bring an end to this cruel and vicious blood sport," said Pamela Burns, president and chief executive officer of the Hawaiian Humane Society, in a written statement. "We commend Hawaii's law enforcement officials, especially U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo, for his vigilance in pursuing this case to the fullest extent possible under the law."

Federal Judge David Ezra sentenced Joseph Toralba to 60 days in jail and one year of supervised release.

Customs officials at Honolulu Airport caught Toralba with 263 cockfighting gaffs earlier this year while he was en route home to Louisiana from the Philippines.

The gaffs are knifelike instruments attached to the legs of fighting cocks. The trafficking of these and other animal fighting instruments is now prohibited between states and between the United States and other countries. According to his pre-sentencing report, Toralba could have been sentenced to up to six months in prison.

Under the new law, transportation of any animal-fighting instrument is a three-year felony-level offense.

"We hope that this case will send a clear message to Hawaii's animal fighting community that the times have changed and the community will no longer stand for these illegal and heinous activities," Kubo said.
Source: Star-Bulletin - Aug 5, 2008
Update posted on Aug 5, 2008 - 9:29AM 


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