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Gaelic football star in Ireland exposed as leader of dog-fighting club

Gaelic football star in Ireland exposed as leader of dog-fighting club

A star of Ireland's Gaelic football league was exposed Thursday as a director of an illegal dog-fighting club, an underground gambling activity that has already wrecked the reputation and career of top U.S. football player Michael Vick.
The 17-month undercover investigation by BBC Northern Ireland's "Spotlight" program, broadcast Thursday night, found evidence of 15 illegal dog-fighting operations in the British territory of 1.7 million.
The program secretly filmed Gerard Cavlan, a 31-year-old member of the County Tyrone football team, discussing his ownership of more than a dozen dogs _ and bragging about how one "hard-mouthed dog" gripped another in its jaws.
"Sure he had him in the chest, and he shook him and he shook him for 25 minutes," Cavlan said during a conversation filmed covertly in his vehicle.
The program deployed an undercover specialist from England who duped organizers of two dog-fighting clubs in Northern Ireland and two breeders of American pit bulls in Finland, who had supplied dogs to Cavlan and other Northern Ireland-based dog fighters. All were filmed discussing the tricks of their trade and evading detection by authorities.
The two Finland-based breeders, Robert Gonzales and Paul Dunkel, were filmed being confronted by the BBC crew with evidence of their dealings before police arrested them.
The program displayed documents showing that Cavlan acquired a pit bull, named Cannon Ball, from Gonzales and traveled to Finland to observe dog fights.
It filmed Cavlan saying he had co-founded a dog-fighting club called Bulldog Sanctuary Kennels. The program described his business partner as Dee, a Protestant extremist and drug dealer.
Gonzales was filmed saying he had loaned Cannon Ball to Cavlan so that he could be used to father a stable of dogs fit for combat.
"Spotlight," the flagship investigations program for the BBC in Belfast, also secretly filmed a dog-fighting competition in Finland involving Gonzales and Tom Bell, an organizer of another Northern Ireland dog-fighting club called the Farmers Boys.
Gonzales was recorded getting down on his hands and knees in front of two 50-pound (23 kilogram) dogs and egging on his dog to kill the other.
After the 45-minute fight ended with both dogs badly injured, the program said, Gonzales took his dog to another building and tried to electrocute it by clipping its tail and ear to a power source and throwing a bucket of water on it, but the animal survived and was killed by another unspecified method.
The investigators also purchased a pure-bred American pit bull from Dunkel for euro2,000 (about US$2,700) and transported it without trouble on flights and by car from Finland to Northern Ireland via the Republic of Ireland, where ownership of pit bulls is permitted. They licensed the dog by using a forged document supplied by Dunkel describing the dog as a boxer-labrador mix.
The Gaelic Athletic Association, which organizes Gaelic football in both parts of Ireland, permitted Cavlan to continue playing for Tyrone after he pleaded guilty in April to possession of a dangerous dog.
At the time, Cavlan's lawyer said his client had collected Cannon Ball for a Dublin friend and didn't realize the dog _ which had several scars _ was being abused in illegal fights. He was fined 650 pounds (US$1,300, euro950) and ordered not to keep terrier breeds.
Three other dogs, Staffordshire terriers, found on Cavlan's property at the time disappeared when animal welfare officials tried to collect them the next day.
Weeks before his guilty plea, Cavlan was secretly filmed describing how he lied to Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals officials, whom he derided as stupid, and tried to conceal evidence of his other dogs and business.
He also accepted the undercover specialist's help to help abduct Cannon Ball from animal welfare officials, and was filmed scouting out the field where Cannon Ball sometimes was taken for walks.
If Cannon Ball disappeared, Cavlan told the undercover man, "there's no case, is there?"
The Gaelic Athletic Association and County Tyrone team declined comment Thursday. Officials said they needed to see the program first. Attempts to contact Cavlan for comment were unsuccessful.
Cavlan's team won the Ireland championship in 2003. This year it lost in the quarter-finals of the annual competition among teams from each of the island's 32 counties.
Vick, once one of the biggest stars of the U.S. National Football League, has been suspended indefinitely as quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons. He pleaded guilty to a charge of dogfighting after several of his business associates implicated him. He faces up to five years in prison at his next scheduled hearing Dec. 10.


Updated : 2021-05-17 20:26 GMT+08:00