Corruption of minors added to offenses faced by pair, who were held for trial
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times
A West Brandywine Township couple accused of maintaining a home-based, dog-fighting operation authorities labeled “a house of pain and horror” were held for trial on a list of charges that increased on Friday.
Chester County Assistant District Attorney Priya T. DeSouza added five counts of corruption of minors to the offenses that both Shane L. Santiago, 33, and his wife, Laura Ann Acampora, 33, already faced, including animal cruelty and conspiracy.
DeSouza presented a single witness at the pair’s preliminary hearing: Chester County Detective Matthew J. Gordon. He testified that police began investigating a possible dog-fighting ring in Chester County after a firefighter found a pit bull burning to death in a locked cage along Rt. 82 in September.
Gordon said investigators contacted the couple’s landlord after West Brandywine Township received complaints about possible dog fighting at the home. He said the landlord gave permission for a cursory search, which revealed evidence of animal cruelty, forming the basis for a formal search warrant executed with the Chester County SPCA on Dec. 5.
Six dogs – five pit bulls and a bulldog – were taken from the home, Gordon said. He added that a dead pit bull puppy was found double-wrapped in plastic in a trash container next to the house, and the back yard was set up to accommodate as many as 16 dogs. He said the basement was largely empty but had two bloodstained walls and a blood-soaked rug in an area that could be easily cordoned into a 15×15-foot, dog-fighting ring. Two pieces of blood-splattered wood that would have boxed the area were found outside, Gordon said.
Gordon said investigators also found marijuana and a scale; treadmills, one of which was enclosed to prevent escape, used to control the dogs’ weight; bite sticks with blood and hair on them, used to stop an attack; and equipment such as jumper cables, cords and wires used to kill dogs that quit during a fight.
The items seized were consistent with what Santiago, who is represented by Laurence Harmelin, acknowledged during a taped interview, Gordon said. Santiago said he and his wife were planning to turn his passion for dog fighting into a business, Gordon said, adding the couple had hosted one fight and scheduled two more.
Gordon testified that Santiago admitted killing about 10 dogs, one of which bit his 14-year-old daughter in the chest when she was feeding it. Santiago said he fashioned a noose and had his daughter watch as he hanged the dog, noting that “it took three minutes to die,” Gordon testified.
During a later interview with the 14-year-old, Gordon said she told him that Santiago would instruct the five children living in the home to go to their rooms when the dog fighting occurred. Two of the children were Santiago’s and three were Acampora’s, Gordon said, adding that they ranged in age from 3 to 14. The teen indicated they knew what was happening because of the sounds, Gordon testified.
He said Acampora, who is represented by Thomas P. McCabe, declined to be interviewed when she was arrested. Gordon said her cellphone, which contained 192 videos and 1,300 emails, was seized. He said one video showed pit bull training. Asked by McCabe how many of the videos “related to dog fighting,’ Gordon said he did not know. “They’re still being reviewed,” he said.
Becky Turnbull, the animal protective services coordinator for the Chester County SPCA, said the agency is caring for the six dogs that were rescued but needs Santiago to surrender custody of the animals so that the agency can have them evaluated to determine whether they will ever be adoptable. DeSouza said Santiago declined to do that after the hearing.