Penalties for cockfighting vary depending on whether the charges are handled at the state or the federal level.
Cockfighting is a misdemeanor according to Virginia state law, but a new federal law went into effect this year upgraded it to a felony on the federal level.
"Federal law, for several years, has been that it was unlawful for a person to sponsor or exhibit any animal fighting venture which includes cockfighting,"
says Tom Bondrant, U.S. Attorney's office in Roanoke.
In the state of Virginia, it depends on your participation. There's no state penalty for attending a cockfight if money isn't exchanged, but if money is exchanged, then there is a little problem.
Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County Richard Claybrook says, "It's a very minimal charge when it's prosecuted on the state level."
Since they are facing federal charges, at least one of the four men charged in the recent Page County bust faces as much as 38 years behind bars and/or fines totaling more than $1 million.
Some consider it just a spectator sport, but when you charge admission, or place bets, the state calls it a crime.
Claybrook says,"It actually is illegal to attend rooster fighting where money is involved. Money changing hands."
Money isn't the only reason federal agents got involved in this bust.
Bondrant says, "It becomes a federal law if someone actually transports the rooster across state lines for the purpose of fighting. Or if someone is holding the cockfight or sponsoring and exhibiting the cockfight."
The federal charges include money laundering. Federal agents will continue to investigate this case. This is the first case in the country that has been brought under the new felony law.