CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
A gaff was displayed yesterday during a news conference on the U.S. Attorney General indictment of Joseph Marty Toralba on cockfighting charges. Toralba, 39, is accused of trying to smuggle into Hawaii 263 gaffs, or small knives, that are tied to the leg of a bird in a cockfight.
Man faces anti-cockfighting charge
Blades used by birds in the matches are allegedly in his bags
A federal grand jury in Honolulu indicted a Louisiana man yesterday for allegedly bringing cockfighting equipment into Hawaii, which is illegal under a new law.
Joseph Marty Toralba, 39, is accused of smuggling into Hawaii 263 gaffs, or small knives, that are tied to the leg of a bird in cockfighting. The gaffs were hidden in his checked luggage, federal prosecutors said.
Toralba is believed to be the first person in the nation to be charged under the Federal Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act, which became law on May 3, according to U.S. District Attorney Ed Kubo Jr.
The act makes it a federal crime to buy, sell or transport a knife or other sharp instrument for cockfighting across state and federal lines. It is punishable by up to three years in prison. In Hawaii, animal fighting is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison.
Kubo said the new law will be an effective tool in assisting local law enforcement.
"In Hawaii, whenever you see cockfighting and gambling, organized crime is not far behind," he said. "I foresee in the near future we will re-establish contact with the police and multiple agencies to deal with cockfighting or dog-fighting in this state."
Toralba, a Colfax, La., resident, was released Feb. 4 on $15,000 bond. He could not be reached for comment. His public defender, Shanlyn Park, did not return calls for comment.
Toralba visited the Philippines on Jan. 18 and returned to the United States on a Philippines Airlines flight Feb. 2.
At Honolulu Airport, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials inspected Toralba's two checked boxes that contained portable gas stoves. Inside the stoves, customs officials discovered the gaffs, which had silver blades about 3 inches long, prosecutors said.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials then arrested Toralba on suspicion of transporting the gaffs.
Toralba, a self-employed landscaper, supplements his income with cockfighting, which is still legal in Louisiana, Kubo said. Toralba has more than 650 birds in Louisiana and had planned to use the gaffs there, Kubo said.
"Regardless of the fact of its legality in another state, the defendant's bringing his gaffs into the state violated both Hawaii law and federal law," Kubo said. "The fact that it was hidden shows that he knew it was illegal bringing it into the United States."
Toralba will be summoned back to Hawaii to face the criminal charges against him. If convicted, he faces up to three years in federal prison, a $250,000 fine and one year of supervised release. He was not charged under state law.