SEFFNER, Fla. -- An uncle and his nephew accused of running a dog fighting ring out of their secluded home faced a judge on Wednesday.
"One of these dogs showed evidence of being fought with in the last 48 hours, so we may have gotten there just in time," says Marti Ryan with Hillsborough County Animal Services.
Vannie Franklin, the uncle, is being held in jail on $57,500 bond, which includes counts of drug possession and being a felon in possession of a firearm, in addition to animal abuse-related charges.
His nephew, Russell, had his bond revoked because he was already out on bond from a charge last year of sexual battery on a minor who was deemed physically helpless. The trial in that case is scheduled for April 2013. In Hillsborough County, records show Russell Franklin has been arrested 31 times in the last 17 years.
Investigators say an anonymous person tipped them off to the alleged dog fighting going on at 6846 Stark Road, a house so far down a dirt road that you can't see it from the closest neighbor's house. On Tuesday night, those investigators rescued seven dogs and were reportedly told by the Franklins that the bodies of more dogs were buried across the yard.
"What was really astounding here is the open admission of the crime, as if this was an everyday occurrence. 'Well shucks, we've been doing this for 20 years and, in fact, you're standing on what's probably a graveyard of perhaps 100 or more dogs,'" Ryan says.
If the Franklins don't surrender the dogs, Hillsborough County Animal Services will take legal action to secure custody. They plan on giving the dogs medical and behavioral evaluations in hopes that they'll get adopted by families and never have to fight again.
At this point, it's unclear if the ongoing investigation will include getting a warrant to dig up potential remains on the property. Investigators do say, however, that more arrests in the case could be coming.
"I was shocked. I haven't heard anything from down there. There's been no problem," says neighbor Mary Jane Black, who lives closest to the house. "It's been very quiet."
If you have any information in this case, you can call 813-744-5660 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tips can remain anonymous.