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Pigeon Racers Charged After PETA Exposes Illegal High-Stakes Gambling


Oklahoma County D.A. Takes Action Following Group’s Investigation

Oklahoma City -- The Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office has charged three pigeon-race organizers—including Karen Mae Clifton, the executive director of the American Racing Pigeon Union (AU)—with felony commercial gambling and conspiracy to violate Oklahoma’s anti–commercial gambling act stemming from a November 2010 convention hosted by the AU and the Pigeon Racers of Oklahoma (PRO) in Oklahoma City. The evidence leading to the charges came from PETA’s 15-month undercover investigation of some of the largest pigeon-racing operations in the country. PETA’s investigators witnessed illegal betting at the convention, ultimately totaling nearly $250,000.

The other persons charged are internationally known pigeon racer Richard Wayne Mardis and James Orr Steele, president of the PRO. If convicted of commercial gambling, Clifton, Mardis, and Steele face fines of up to $25,000, up to 10 years in prison, or both.

“The police and prosecutors have made it clear that illegal gambling on pigeon racing will not be tolerated,” says general counsel to PETA Jeffrey Kerr. “AU races are about thousands of dead birds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal bets, and this important case has exposed those realities to the public.”

In most races, more than 60 percent of the birds never make it back to their lofts or mates because of severe weather, raptors, electric lines, exhaustion, and hunters. Out of more than 1,500 baby pigeons shipped to Oklahoma City for the 2010 AU race alone, only 1,044 survived training. Only 420 of those birds made it back from Conway, Ark., by nightfall. Racers often wring the necks of birds who return but finish out of the money.

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