Pocket dial leads deputies to cockfighting in Le Grand

02/04/2014 9:12 PM

02/04/2014 10:58 PM

A large, sophisticated cockfighting operation in Le Grand ended over the weekend after the cellphone in a man’s pocket inadvertently dialed 911, the Merced County Sheriff’s Department reported.

A dispatcher overheard “yelling and screaming” when the call came in about 2:10 p.m. Sunday, but the caller disconnected without saying anything, Deputy Delray Shelton said.

“Nobody picked up the phone when the dispatchers tried to call back,” Shelton said.

Deputies later traced the number, and that person, whose name is being withheld for safety reasons, confirmed accidentally dialing the Sheriff’s Department, authorities said.

Sgt. Jim Pacheco said he and Deputy Brandon Soto responded to the call and traced longitude and latitude coordinates to an almond orchard in the area of the 16000 block of East McCarter Road in Le Grand.

More than 100 people scattered, deputies said, when they approached the makeshift animal-fighting arena. More than 60 cars were parked in the orchard and about 20 were left behind.

“In one of those vehicles we recovered about $10,000 in cash,” Pacheco said.

As the crowd scattered, a man in a Toyota 4Runner rammed a sheriff’s patrol vehicle while trying to get away, the Sheriff’s Department said.

Pacheco, who was driving the patrol car, was not injured.

The driver, later identified by deputies as Heriberto Venturaramos, 30, raced away through the orchard, but was quickly tracked down and arrested, Shelton said.

Venturaramos was booked at the Merced County Jail on suspicion of animal cruelty and assault with a deadly weapon. He posted a $30,000 bail bond and was released the same day. A court date was not available Tuesday.

Deputies found nearly 30 dead birds at the scene. About a dozen more, who were ready to fight, were found chained to almond trees or caged, detectives said.

“We found a ring made of plywood that appeared to be semi-permanent. It appears they had been at it at this location for quite a while,” Pacheco said.

At least one man was selling homemade tacos and tequila at a vendor’s booth.

Deputies captured one man, Jesus Maravela, who they said was trying to load vending equipment into a van. Maravela was not booked at the jail for medical reasons, but authorities say they will seek criminal charges against him through the Merced County District Attorney’s Office.

It was the second large cockfighting operation discovered in Merced County in theplast two weeks. One man was arrested and 13 others cited Jan. 25 when deputies broke up another operation in the Hilmar area.

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