U.S. Man Charged Under New Law for Smuggling Cockfighting Weapons

An American has been charged with violating a new federal animal cruelty law by smuggling cockfighting weapons from the Philippines into the United States.

Joseph Marty Toralba was arrested at the Honolulu airport on Feb. 2 as he was returning from an international cockfighting derby in the Philippines. Authorities said customs officers found 263 gaffs — sharp knives that are tied to the birds' legs — hidden with portable gas stoves in cardboard boxes Toralba had checked in on the plane.

Toralba, a 39-year-old landscaper who has a 150-bird farm in Colfax, Louisiana, was indicted Thursday. His public defender, Shanlyn Park, didn't return a phone call seeking comment.

Toralba's home state is the last in the U.S. where cockfighting is legal, but it will be outlawed there starting in August.

He 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, U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo said.

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

The Federal Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act of 2007 took effect in May, making animal fighting activities felonies rather than misdemeanors. Prosecutors said this may be the first case under the law.

The charge of transporting cockfighting tools is punishable by up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Toralba had been released on bond and allowed to travel home, 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.