Infamous Floyd Bodreaux Bust

Floyd Bodreaux

Floyd Bodreaux

New Orleans, LA — It was one of the biggest police raids in the history of Lafayette Parish, maybe in all of Acadiana.

The caravan of vehicles creeping down Louisiana 89 on March 11 included a SWAT team, the State Police gambling unit and members of local Troop I, U.S. Customs officials, the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Humane Society dog handlers from as far away as Florida and Montana, and at the front, a large refrigerated truck filled with dog cages and driven by Kathryn Destreza.

Destreza, the SPCA’s director of animal services, calmly went over the game plan in her head, but as they closed in on the kennel operated by Floyd Boudreaux and his son, Guy, her adrenaline spiked. Not because of the raid — she’d been on plenty of big raids — but at the thought of seeing, in the flesh, a pit bull terrier from the world-renowned Boudreaux bloodline.

In dogfighting, a sport that spans the globe, the pedigree is revered for producing the world’s most vicious fighting dogs. Long-dead legends include Blind Billy, Maverick and Napoleon. And among the living, Reno, the “grand champion” fighter and aging stud, was among the dogs Destreza expected to confront face-to-muzzle.

“Just the thought of seeing a Boudreaux-bred dog on Boudreaux property was starting to blow me away,” Destreza said. “Floyd is sort of like the Adam in the dogfighting world. He’s the standard everybody else judges their dogs by.”

Just outside the Lafayette city limits, where the highway meets La Neuville Road, the line of trucks and police cruisers pulled up to the Boudreaux property in Broussard about 8 a.m. Beyond the family’s fleet of rusted cars and pickups was the weather-beaten wood-frame house where Floyd Boudreaux lives with his wife, and behind that the double-wide trailer where Guy Boudreaux lives with his 10-year-old son. Old tires, rusted pipes, piles of lumber and rolls of chain-link fence surrounded a tar-paper workshop and rickety rooster shack.

But in the field behind the main compound was a sight that filled Destreza with awe and disgust: 27 pit bulls tethered beside small doghouses, many of the dogs wallowing in muddy pools of standing rainwater. Each doghouse was surrounded by a neat circular rut, the deep grooves marking the boundaries of the dogs’ world as the animals strained their 6-foot chains. Reno was spotted right away by Destreza and her staff. Surprisingly, he appeared to get no special treatment, just one dog chained among rows of other dogs. Another 30 pit bulls, including puppies, were scattered in pens and doghouses.

Despite their primitive living conditions, the dogs — all bred from the prized Boudreaux bloodline — were hearty, healthy and, together, valued at more than $300,000, SPCA Director Laura Maloney said. Reno alone was worth at least $25,000, Maloney said.

The dogs, along with items ranging from anabolic steroids to exercise treadmills to computer records and videos, were evidence enough to book Floyd Boudreaux, 70, and Guy Boudreaux, 40, with animal cruelty, illegal possession of steroids, possession of a sawed-off shotgun and 64 counts of dogfighting.

Within the secretive and tightknit community of dogfighters, the raid has become the most talked-about event in years. But to State Police, the Boudreaux bust represents just one blow in a very recent, very active crackdown. A month after the Lafayette raid, the State Police’s Troop I and gambling division stormed an organized fight in Sunset, where they arrested 17 adults and two juveniles and found two severely mauled pit bulls “locked up” on each other in the middle of a bloody pit.

And in back-to-back raids last week, the State Police and SPCA took out an alleged Church Point dogfighter and his kennel of 43 pit bulls Wednesday, before storming a Franklinton compound known as Dirty South Kennels on Thursday, arresting owner Darren Williams and seizing 134 pit bulls. The value of one of the dogs, an alleged grand champion named Coachise, was pegged by the SPCA at $60,000.

In a guard room next to Williams’ main kennel, police found pictures of other “champion” pit bulls, animal medicines, leashes, belts, a refrigerator full of Budweiser beer and, lying in the middle of a bed, a framed photograph of Williams and Floyd Boudreaux.

Louisiana has long been one of the country’s most fertile arenas for dogfighting, mainly because the activity flourished virtually unchecked for decades, authorities said.

Before it was made illegal in 1982, dogfighting was a fixture of Cajun country alongside cock-fighting, the controversial blood sport that that has been outlawed in every state except Louisiana and New Mexico. Floyd Boudreaux grew up in an era when pit bull fights were a Saturday draw at rural nightclubs and bush tracks that also offered family fare such as barbecues, fais-do-dos, sulky racing and drag racing.

Cockfighting, with its spectacle of death, was like a sideshow at these throw-downs, held in a barn or closed pit away from those with no stomach for it. Dog matches, far bloodier and more protracted than the rooster fights, were staged even deeper in the shadows. Several Lafayette old-timers said the fights were public knowledge but largely unadvertised, held at whispered locations “in the woods” or “down the road,” and usually late at night.

“Been around since I was a baby,” said Virginia Lee, director of Lafayette Animal Control. “Just like cockfighting, it’s become part of the culture. They always kept it away from the kids because it was so bloody, but somehow it became accepted around here.”

Floyd Boudreaux, in a coffee table book of photographs by Marc Joseph called “American Pitbull,” described growing up as the son of a dogman: “I’ve been working with the breed over half a century. I also have chickens. My dad had them before I did, and then I had them before I went to grade school. My son, too. It’s always been a family affair.”

In the weeks after the raid, some folks were heard to wonder why police were hassling a kindly old dog-lover and his family, while others questioned why authorities took so long to eliminate a kennel for killer dogs that operated in plain sight for decades.

“He should have been arrested a long time ago. Everybody knew about him,” said Randy Hebert, who lives near the Boudreaux compound. “I don’t know how he was able to operate so wide-open for so long.”

But Conrad Miller, a pit-bull owner and friend of the Boudreaux family, said the family dog operation is misunderstood.

“All pits are fighting dogs. That’s what they do,” he said. “Even though Floyd goes back to the fighting days, I don’t think he’s fought his dogs for years. He always told me, ‘That’s a thing of the past.’ ”

Miller acknowledged that Boudreaux is still considered royalty among dogfighters, but he said that reputation is based on Boudreaux’s long-ago triumphs in the pit. “When he goes to (dog) shows,” he said, “everybody wants his autograph or they want to take his picture. He’s a hero in that crowd. But he’s really just a sweet little old man.”

For Floyd and Guy Boudreaux, even harder to take than the raid and criminal charges, Miller and others said, was the euthanasia of 57 prized pit bulls. The destruction of the animals all but eliminated the family’s two most sought-after bloodlines, the generations-old “Boudreaux” line and the more recent branch of fighters known as “Eli.” According to authorities, dogmen from as far away as Mexico and Japan came to the Boudreaux kennel to purchase a puppy born from that storied stock, sometimes paying as much as $10,000 for the pick of a litter.

“People came from all over the world to buy his dogs,” said Jeff Dorson of the Humane Society of New Orleans and one of the state’s most vocal dogfighting opponents. “Sometimes they came just to pay homage, get his autograph, have their picture taken with him. He is the top of the pyramid as far as notoriety in dogfighting circles.”

Maloney said the animals were put to sleep at the New Orleans shelter a few days after the raid. She said the dogs were contraband under the law and that there was no safe way to house that many dogs bred and trained to kill.

The euthanasia operation took nearly 48 hours and brought most of the staff to tears.

“I have a pit bull myself. It’s my favorite breed,” Maloney said. “But there was no way to rehabilitate a dog that has been so selectively bred for aggression toward other animals. If they were ever to get around another animal, they’d turn in a millisecond. It was shocking to us how vicious they’d become when they saw another animal.”

The Boudreaux case was so sensitive that none of the local police agencies or animal shelters in the Lafayette area was told about the impending raid. But it didn’t take long for word to get around after it went down.

Lee, the local animal control director, said her shelter got a flood of calls from local pit bull owners devastated by the news. The raid also led to a rash of abandoned pit bulls in the area, dogs presumably cut loose by dogfighters who didn’t want to risk getting caught.

Illegal activity denied

Floyd and Guy Boudreaux, through their attorneys, deny breeding or training their pit bulls for fighting, activities that are illegal under the state’s dogfighting statute. Daniel Stanford, who represented Guy Boudreaux at the time of the raid, said, “These dogs were used for hunting, shows, competitive weight pulling and as pets.”

The steroids, the attorneys said, were used for the dozens of roosters the family raised for cockfighting.

Neither Boudreaux has offered public comment since the bust. In response to a recent interview request from The Times-Picayune, Guy Boudreaux referred all legal questions to attorney Jason Robideaux, who did not respond to several telephone calls.

Boudreaux, however, did offer a parting comment during a visit from a reporter: “My dad hasn’t fought dogs in 30 years. And he gave away more dogs than he ever sold. Look how we live. Where’s all the money?”

Boudreaux said he and his father are eager to tell their side of the story but have been instructed by attorneys to save it for court.

The father and son face a maximum of 10 years in prison for each felony dogfighting count. But to Louisiana State Police and animal control officers, the raid’s greater significance is that it marked the biggest blow to dogfighting in Louisiana since the state banned it in 1982 and has rattled dogfighting circles around the world.

Within days of the Lafayette raid, Internet sites affiliated with animal-rescue groups were flooded with messages describing the elder Boudreaux as dogfighting’s “don,” “godfather” and “kingpin.”

Pro-pit-bull sites — posted by groups that operate with a high degree of anonymity, secrecy and perfunctory disclaimers against fighting — cast him in heroic terms. One Web site, launched as the “Help Floyd Foundation,” solicited money for a legal defense fund, referring to Boudreaux as a “famous and honored long-term breeder.” People pledged donations from as far away as England and the Czech Republic.

The SPCA received a flood of hostile phone messages and hate mail, including a “Fire Laura Maloney” e-mail petition signed by more than 600 people and an unnerving photo with Maloney’s name printed on a headstone.

Detective David Hunt of Franklin County, Ohio, and one of the country’s premier dogfighting enforcers, said he started hearing about the Boudreaux raid from informants hours before the story hit the news.

“The fact that his arrest spread so quickly through underground channels shows just how big he was,” Hunt said. “It’s a huge, huge arrest that will affect dogfighting nationally for some time.”

State Trooper Willie Williams Jr. is with Troop I in Lafayette. He was among the local troopers who were ordered to arrive early on the morning of the raid without any other hint of the operation. Only after the raid, while surfing the Internet, did Williams appreciate the shock waves made by the bust, he said.

“This isn’t just a state case or a national case; it’s international,” Williams said. “Mr. Boudreaux is a celebrity in that world. He was the man, the king. . . . Hopefully, this is going to send a message to other people who are involved: ‘If the king can be removed, maybe that should be a clue.’ The best thing we can have is voluntary compliance.”

Heightened enforcement

Even as dogfighting emerged as a big-money gambling outlet throughout the 1990s, enforcement remained a low priority. Good intelligence was notoriously difficult to develop in the shadowy dogfighting world, police say, and the state dogfighting statute made prosecution difficult unless police disrupted a fight in progress, an extremely rare occurrence.

But in 2001, animal-rights activists successfully lobbied to change the law, making it a felony to breed, train or own a dog for fighting purpose. Police could now make cases by seizing evidence such as exercise treadmills, heavy chains, steroids, fighting manuals, and underground magazines, videos and, in some cases, computer files.

The change has been exploited beyond Lafayette, including in New Orleans. “I would say that over the last three years, by working with the SPCA and Jeff Dorson, dogfighting has become a top concern for the Police Department,” New Orleans police spokesman Capt. Marlon Defillo said.

One of the most convincing arguments presented by the animal-rights community, Defillo said, was the “correlation between dogfighting and other crimes such as narcotics, gambling and crimes of violence. Individuals who wage big bets on dogfighting often find themselves in other illegal activities and violent situations.”

For example, in Wednesday’s bust, alleged Church Point dogfighter Pedro Mendez Ramos was booked along with 14 others in connection with a multi-state cocaine and marijuana trafficking ring.

Dogfighting in New Orleans

Also emerging on law enforcement radar is an exploding, and lucrative, dogfighting scene in and around New Orleans, where $50,000, hours-long death matches have become a hard-edged undercurrent of hip-hop culture, often entangled with drugs and guns, according to animal-rights activists.

As a dogfighting opponent Dorson didn’t limit himself to nudging the police into action. For two years, he went undercover, posing as a dog-food distributor, to infiltrate the notoriously clandestine clique of dogfighters. By giving away truckloads of kibble, Dorson soon had breeders and trainers paging him around the clock and giving him a wide-open window into their world.

In addition to providing names and locations, Dorson got the attention of New Orleans police with photographs documenting the pastime’s brutality.

“Looking at the photographs of dogs that have been killed or maimed in vicious dogfights has drawn a lot of sympathy from our officers,” Defillo said.

A few local cases have revealed what local police are up against. In February 2003, New Orleans police got a tip and raided a fight scene on a dirt road in eastern New Orleans. Spectators scattered in all directions, leaving behind dog cages, cell phones, $6,000 in cash and a bloody dogfighting ring. Police booked 16 people as spectators, a misdemeanor, but the district attorney’s office decided not to pursue charges, citing weak evidence.

One of the people arrested during that raid, Cleveland Harris Jr., was booked again Feb. 28 on 12 counts of dogfighting and animal cruelty for allegedly maintaining a kennel of “game” pit bulls at his home. He is awaiting trial.

In another New Orleans case, Rudolph Bolds, 58, and his son Rudolph Bolds Jr., 34, were charged with dogfighting and cruelty to animals for allegedly maintaining a kennel of pit bulls bearing scars from fighting. At a May 16 trial, a jury acquitted the elder Bolds but could not arrive at a verdict on his son, forcing prosecutors to decide whether to hold a second trial.

Amid the disappointment, police and animal workers did not fail to note that the attorneys representing the Bolds, Robert Glass and Ron Rakosky, are among the highest-paid criminal defense lawyers in the state.

Starting at the top

For years, Dorson had compiled evidence on the Boudreaux operation in a file labeled “Operation Dog Bite.” He finally got the State Police interested this year when he made a direct appeal to their chief, Col. Henry Whitehorn.

Meanwhile, the SPCA, operating independently, had been gathering tips from within the pit bull breeding and training community. The agency compiled information about the major players, the big money fights, the puppy sales from the most coveted litters of game pit bulls.

State Police Capt. Joseph Lentini, commander of casino gambling, credited Maloney and the SPCA with getting his troopers up to speed on dogfighting in a hurry.

Eventually, the background from the animal groups and fresh information developed independently by State Police investigators all came together in a red-hot tip on how to nail the biggest name in the business: Floyd Boudreaux.

Lentini would reveal only that the most crucial piece of information in the Boudreaux case came from New Orleans.

“When I got the call from an agent, it was very exciting. We knew we had something big there,” Lentini said.

Since the arrest of Floyd and Guy Boudreaux, Lentini said, the State Police have been flooded with tips and information: Information about other large kennels selling fighting dogs. Information about fights with purses approaching $80,000. Dog-theft rings that steal family pets to be used as “bait” in the training of pit-bull fighters.

“We’re steadily getting new information coming in, and we’re still working a lot of active cases,” Lentini said. “My people are really becoming experts in this. We’re starting to feel pretty confident.”

As Lentini’s troopers dig deeper into the world of dogfighting, the enormity of the case against Floyd Boudreaux and his son is becoming clear. In many ways, the agency took the opposite path of most major police investigations, which generally start at the bottom and work their way up the ladder as minor players decide to cooperate. In the Boudreaux case, the State Police started at the top.

But, like dogfighters who shuddered at the news, the local SPCA and other animal groups immediately knew the history-making dimensions of the Boudreaux bust.

Destreza, a tough and seasoned animal handler who wears a uniform and carries a badge, said she cried more than once during the long two days in which the Boudreaux dogs were photographed and charted for scars and calluses before being led, one by one, to Room 9-5, the SPCA’s euthanasia room.

Despite their rippling muscles, many of the dogs were calm but scared, and even friendly — just like most breeds, Destreza said. The dog handlers gave many of them pet names, even as they prepared them for death.

“Seeing those big dopey looks from those big brown eyes,” Destreza said, “I cried, yes, but I made sure not to cry in front of my staff. You can’t help but bond with the animals. Even as we were loading them onto the truck, you couldn’t help but think about what was eventually going to happen to them. Trying to breed another line like Boudreaux would be like trying to re-create Elvis. You can make some gold records, but there’s only one Elvis.”

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