A series of Baltimore-area drug raids turned up marijuana, cocaine, cash and a big surprise for police -- 43 pit bulls believed used for dogfighting as a spectator sport.
The dogs, some with wounds, were inside an Essex house and in cages on the property. Police also reported seizing 14 pounds of marijuana, a pound of cocaine, $14,000, an assortment of firearms and a stolen 1994 Toyota 4-Runner.
But police were stunned by the presence of the pit bulls -- dogs with a reputation for fierceness -- and the stench in raiding the house in the 1500 block of Old Eastern Ave. late Wednesday.
Yesterday, police and animal control workers returned to remove the pit bulls and one other dog of an uncertain breed -- as neighbors watched in disbelief.
"We believe the owner was breeding the dogs, selling them and fighting them in a pen in the basement," said Cpl. Kevin B. Novak, a Baltimore County police spokesman. "People were also arrested at the other sites, but apparently this guy was the
center of the ring for the group's drug distribution network."
Corporal Novak said the investigation is continuing.
Police seized photographs that appeared to depict fighting dogs, and in the basement found a large, blood- and feces-stained pen that might have been used for dog fights. The dogs were taken to the county animal shelter, where workers were unable to comment on their fate.
Police also notified the county Department of Environmental Protection yesterday about a trench around the house that carried animal waste to a nearby stream.
A neighbor, who declined to give her name, said living near the "foul smelly odor and stench that emanated from the grounds" was a "nightmare."
"I don't know if [the pit bulls] were being used for dogfighting," the woman said. "I saw a lot of dogs coming in and out of there, but I had no idea what was going on. It's sadistic, and it's sickening to think about."
She added, "The woods in the back kept them quite hidden. There were a lot of people in and out all day, every day. We assumed that they were dealing drugs; we're not idiots, we can hypothesize.
"But we're still afraid," she said, noting that she never complained to police about her suspicions or the odor for fear of repercussions. "You don't expect this kind of thing to happen in your neighborhood."
What was initially a drug investigation began six months ago in Anne Arundel County, and resulted in three drug raids Wednesday night. The other two were in Glen Burnie and Baltimore.
County police became involved in April when a stolen car investigation led detectives to the suspects being sought by Anne Arundel authorities, Corporal Novak said.
Arrested on a warrant in Essex was Leonardo DaVinci Graham, 28. He was charged with several counts of drug possession, intent to distribute and three counts of maintaining a common nuisance.
Mr. Graham's wife and three children, who also live in the two-story Formstone house, were not charged. Police said conditions in the household were being investigated by the Department of Social Services.
In Glen Burnie, police arrested and lodged similar charges against Leo Philips, 25, of the 600 block of Crucible Circle. Police said they found 10 pounds of marijuana, nine ounces of cocaine, and a stolen 1995 Mazda MS6 and a stolen 1995 Jeep Cherokee at his home.
In Baltimore, police said, two pounds of marijuana, $1,200, a handgun and a stolen 1993 Corvette were found at the home of Jason Brewer, 24, of North Patterson Park Avenue, who was arrested and charged with the same counts as other men.
In Essex, neighbors said the drug arrest of Mr. Graham, who moved in a year ago, came as no surprise -- but news of the dogs was "shocking."
Several, who declined to give their names, spoke of numerous people going in and out of the house.
"We just didn't think it was our business," one woman said.
But Stew Bullock, whose family owns a flower shop across the street, said he never "saw anything unusual or smelled anything unusual."
"And I park my car next to that ditch with the dog feces in it, too," he said. "I may have seen a dog, but I didn't see 43 of them. It's amazing that I was never aware of them."
Police said they were not certain what the dogs were being used for but a dog trainer and member in the Metropolitan Doberman Pinscher Club said fighting was likely.
"Good responsible breeders don't usually have that many," said Allen Holmes, who added that only large kennels owned by wealthy people would have so many dogs. "I'd be very suspicious. It's unusual to have 43 dogs of any kind in the back yard."