(CN) - Three white people facing federal charges for running a South Carolina cockfighting ring failed to prove that they faced harsher prosecution than their two Latino co-conspirators, who were charged only by the state, the 4th Circuit ruled. More than 36 Latinos arrested in connection with another cockfighting South Carolina ring also faced state charges only, the three argued.
The three appellants, Mary Braddock, Roy Braddock and Jonathan Leviner, were indicted by federal prosecutors in late 2009 after state and federal authorities conducted a 13-month undercover investigation in South Carolina that resulted in illegal cockfighting and gambling charges against approximately 60 people.
The Richmond, Va.-based federal appeals court found that the Braddocks and Leviner had failed to establish that "similarly situated individuals of a different race were not prosecuted." Unlike the cockfighting ring that the three white men ran, the Latinos' ring may not have used interstate commerce, the court's three-judge panel found.
The ruling also states that other similarities between the two cases, like the fact that they were both charged in Hampton County or that their cases both involved the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, were "superficial" and "are insufficient to show that the individuals prosecuted differently were similarly situated."
The unsigned opinion does not explain how prosecutors differentiated between the three white defendants and their two Latino co-conspirators.
The Humane Society, the nation's largest animal protection organization backed by 11 million Americans, hailed the ruling, saying in a statement that they were glad the court rejected "this frivolous attempt to evade federal law."
"Cockfighting is a vicious bloodsport," according to the statement, "and those who engage in such animal cruelty must be held accountable for their actions."
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