By CBS13 Staff

CERES (CBS13) — A Ceres man has pleaded guilty to running an operation that bred birds for cockfighting, prosecutors announced on Friday.

The US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California says 74-year-old Joseph D. Sanford was the owner and operator of Joe Sanford Gamefarm in Ceres. Prosecutors said Sanford bred and sold birds for cockfighting.

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An undercover agent was able to buy a trio of fighting game birds from Sanford, prosecutors say, prompting federal agents to raid the operation.

A total of 2,956 gamefowls were seized during the raid, federal officials say.

Sanford has since pleaded guilty to violating the Animal Welfare Act – a crime that has him facing a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

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“The gruesome act of animal fighting has no place in a civilized society and will not be tolerated,” said Dusty Cladis, Acting Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of the Inspector General, in a statement.

Prosecutors say Sanford’s guilty plea means he acknowledged shipping birds within the US and to Mexico, Peru and the Philippines for cockfighting.

The fighting roosters have been disposed of, federal officials say, while hens seized from Sanford have been placed in an animal sanctuary.

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Sanford is scheduled to be sentenced on March 11, 2022.