GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — The head of a mid-Michigan dog-fighting ring with ties to Kent County has been sentenced to prison for running what a federal prosecutor called a ‘barbarous and cruel’ operation supported by a ‘depraved underground subculture.’

A federal judge this week sentenced 34-year-old Charles Joseph Miller to five years in prison for running the Lansing-based venture for more than three years. He got additional time for a crack cocaine conviction.

“Dog fighting is a cruel venture centered on causing extreme physical pain to unwitting dogs for the purposes of callous entertainment, personal profit and distorted prestige for the owners of winning fighting dogs,’’ Assistant U.S. Attorney Kate Zell wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

More than three dozen dogs were involved. Some suffered significant injuries from fights that lasted more than 30 minutes. Dogs were fitted with weighted chains and tethered to treadmills for endurance training.

Some of the dogs had to be destroyed; others were taken to shelters. 

U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge called the operation a “sick and brutal underground activity’’ that was “uniquely barbarous and cruel.’’

Miller’s older brother, 41-year-old Kian Miller, was sentenced to two years for his participation. Three co-defendants are already serving prison terms.

The five were arrested following a lengthy investigation involving multiple agencies. The probe brought investigators to Kent County, where authorities seized four dogs from a home on Osmer Avenue SW in Wyoming.

The operation got underway in 2014 and was broken up in December of 2017. Federal court documents identify dogs involved as American pit bull terriers.

Participants bred dogs specifically for fighting and helped others train and condition dogs for fighting, court records show. 

Dogs were trained for fighting using a tug rope. Heavy chains were also used to condition the dogs to make them stronger. Investigators found messages about how to care for dog wounds. 

Dog-fighting paraphernalia seized as part of the investigation included a crate used to send one of the dogs to Ecuador for breeding.

 “One video shows a dog fight in progress during which the winning dog has the losing dog pinned to the ground by its neck,’’ Zell wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “The losing dog is bleeding extensively and cannot get up.’’

Charles Miller and a childhood friend ran ‘Stick Wit Me Kennels’ in Lansing to breed, train and condition dogs for fighting, court records show. A spring pole, slat mill and treadmill were used as part of the training. Some of the dogs involved were named ‘Nightmare,’ ‘Dream’ and ‘Ploy.’

“Over the last decade, there has been increased public awareness of the serious, violent nature of dog fighting, as reflected by Congress’s repeated strengthening of the Animal Welfare Act,’’ Zell wrote in her sentencing memorandum.

“Given the extensive, secretive networks that are needed to solicit opponents and to locate, buy and sell dogs from coveted bloodlines, dog fighting can fairly be called ‘organized crime’ in the traditional sense of that term,’’ Zell wrote. "It is a serious offense, often driven by large sums of money.’’

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