Cockfighting operation raided in Tampa

By Thomas Lake, Times Staff Writer
Published February 20, 2008

TAMPA - Roosters crowed in the background as government agents raided a car dealership Tuesday morning. The sign in front said Michael Serrano's Used Auto; the wall was painted with coconut palms and a Puerto Rican flag. The roosters numbered in the dozens. They were trained to kill each other with razor blades.

Early in the cloudless afternoon, Hillsborough County Animal Services spokeswoman Marti Ryan walked to the edge of the lot, holding two objects. One looked like an overgrown feather duster.

"This is used to excite them," she said.

The other was a bag made of navy blue cloth. She said fight directors used it to carry the roosters from the cage to the ring. The bag had a picture of a rooster on it, and under the picture was the Spanish word for "culture." The bag had a message that looked almost like a poem.

It was titled Los Galleros, or The Rooster Fighters. Translated from Spanish, it went something like this:

We are like the fine roosters. And fine roosters don't fly over the hurdle, they don't abandon the fight. They fight, until the end. We are not of the lineage of those that give up. We are another class of people. Pure Folklore. Boricua.

The last word means native of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory in the Caribbean where cockfighting is a national pastime. Authorities said they found a cockfighting ring inside a building on the used-car lot, which is on the corner of Lake Avenue and 40th Street. There were steroids and syringes inside. Ryan said the ring was screened in and lined with mulch.

One man had been arrested in case by Tuesday afternoon. He was not Michael Serrano, who was already in jail in cocaine charges. He was Felipe Cordero, 31, of 1701 E Waters Ave. Jail records said he faced 20 criminal charges in connection with illegal cockfighting. The jail's Web site says he was previously arrested in Hillsborough County on charges of attending and betting on animal fights.

Animal Services seized 70 to 80 chickens from the property. Ryan said some of them might be saved, but the adult male fighters would be nearly impossible to place with new owners. Just before 1 p.m., Animal Services Sgt. Pam Perry brought one of them out to show the reporters.

"This rooster has been prepped for fighting," she said. She was holding its cage. The bird was mostly orange-red, with some feathers of black, blue and green. Its comb and wattle had been cut off to make fighting easier. It was still magnificent.

"They will cut each other to death," Perry said.

They fight until the end.

This rooster would not. It would probably die at the hands of a reluctant human. Its death would be quick and humane, Ryan said. No razors. Just a lethal injection.

Times staff writer Saundra Amrhein contributed to this report. Thomas Lake can be reached at tlake@sptimes.com or 813 226-3416.