Two of the nine defendants arrested last June by federal authorities, in connection with an alleged dog-fighting ring that stretched from New Jersey to New Mexico, move closer to possible trials.


Grand juries returned indictments against Lydell Harris, 31, of Vineland, and Robert Arellano, 63, of Albuquerque, according to the office of New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman.

Harris is charged with eight counts of possession of a dog for use in animal fighting and one count of conspiracy to sponsor and exhibit a dog in an animal fighting venture.

Arellano is charged with one count of conspiracy to sell, buy, transport, deliver and receive dogs for an animal fighting venture.

Mario Atkinson, 40, of Asbury Park; Justin Love, 36, of Westville; Frank Nichols, 39, of Millville; and Tiffany Burt, 34, of Vineland are the New Jersey defendants apprehended in the multi-state probe dubbed Operation Grand Champion. The remainder are Dajan Ware, 43, of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Pedro Cuellar, 46, of Willow Springs, Illinois.

The federal Animal Welfare Act classifies promotion, preparation, transfer, sale, training and execution of dogs into fighting events as a felony, with a possible prison term of five years upon conviction.

Investigators alleged that the network began operating in October 2015, pairing pit bull-type canines in death matches. Detectives reported finding scarred animals, devices aimed at building strength and aggression, and animal pelts on some defendants' properties, along with surgical gear to circumvent veterinary care for injured animals.

Charges are accusations. Defendants are presumed innocent unless, and until, found guilty in a court of law.

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