Home to Roost 

A cockfighting ring gets busted, the elderly get targeted, and nearly $5 million gets sent illegally to Syria.

They're trained to kill. Some are fed steroids. Most are outfitted with razor blades or ice pick-like spurs. Tossed into rings, they slash each other as crowds hoot and bet and goo oozes from punctured entrails and eyes. It's cockfighting, illegal in all fifty states. (Louisiana was the last holdout, until 2007.) A cockfighting ring was busted in Livermore on January 13 after a witness reported a derby in progress. Of the seven men arrested, two lived in Livermore, three in Alameda, one in San Jose, another in Las Vegas. More than 400 fowl were found.

But you can't call it a rescue, because "after the entire legal procedure, fighting cocks are almost always euthanized," says John Goodwin, manager of animal-fighting issues for the Humane Society of the United States. Bred for battle, they can't cohabit with other birds. Claims that cockfighting should be allowed because it's traditional in certain communities — Laotians in Wisconsin, Filipinos in Hawaii, Hispanics in California — are disingenuous, Goodwin says: "The kind of people who promote cockfighting are not the kind of people who care about other cultures except when it's convenient. They don't have a lot to defend about this particular crime, so that's what they're stuck with — and suddenly they become the greatest multiculturalists under the sun."

Elder abuse redux

Seeking easy targets, robbers pick on seniors. On January 10, two Oakland cops patrolling West MacArthur Boulevard saw a sixteen-year-old boy knock an 83-year-old woman to the ground while trying to seize her purse. A repeat offender, he ran through Mosswood Park before being caught. The report states, "Investigators admonished the suspect." On December 28, a Berkeley 80-year-old suffered facial lacerations after a robber stole his wallet and groceries near Live Oak Park and punched him to the ground. That same day near Berkeley Bowl, a robber attacked a septuagenarian couple, striking the man in the head, pushing him down, seizing his wallet and groceries, and fleeing on a bicycle. On January 15, three men posing as PG&E workers entered a 78-year-old man's Albany home, and then stole guns and money. Berkeley Police Sgt. Mary Kusmiss commends the victim's neighbor's vigilance, which led to three arrests. "These scams are widespread in the Bay Area, and it's heartbreaking," she says. "If you have older people in your neighborhood, get to know them" — and keep an eye peeled.

Say it loud

Not one but two bike bandits assailed a Berkeleyite on Oregon Street near Fulton Street on January 14. As they punched him in the jaw and fought him for his bag, he yelled — alerting numerous nearby residents, who emerged from their homes and called the cops, according to a neighborhood-watch listserv. The thieves escaped.

God sees everything

Is nothing sacred? A laptop computer was reported stolen from the rectory of Berkeley's St. Joseph the Workman Church on January 12. According to the Berkeley Police Department log, cash was taken from the Church of the Divine Man on January 14, as were checks from the Chinese for Christ Church the next day.

Sweat the small stuff

Is an unattended thermos really worth stealing? Someone did it in Berkeley on January 9. Other recent small-time heists include eighteen T-shirts stolen from It's a Breeze One Hour Photo in Emeryville and two boxes of golf balls snatched from Emeryville's Sports Authority store by "a shoplifter who fought with the managers and then fled the store," reads the police report. And a victim "had his gold braces (for teeth aka 'grill') forcibly removed" — from his pocket, not his mouth — in front of the Bay Fair BART station on January 14, according to BART Police.

Road to Damascus

A Pinole man has admitted to operating an illegal money-transmitting business by which $4.8 million went to "individuals in Syria," according to a US Department of Justice press release issued on January 10. An investigation conducted by the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and other agencies found that Hesham Badawi helmed "a sophisticated operation with money being wired through foreign intermediaries in Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, China, France, Switzerland, Germany, and South Korea." Badawi faces sentencing in April.

Gold in them thar hills

When an airport shuttle brought a man home to Del Mar Avenue near Campus Drive in the Berkeley Hills around midnight on January 5, both passenger and driver stepped out — just as a Toyota glided to a halt right in front of them, disgorging one thief who thrust a rifle at them and another who seized their wallets. The perps leaped back into the Toyota, where a confederate waited behind the wheel, and sped off. Based on the victims' descriptions, the getaway car was found the next day, says BPD Sgt. Kusmiss. One victim's student ID card was in it.

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