A MAN known as the nation’s No. 2 breeder of pit bull dogs was sentenced last week to 40 years in prison on dog fighting and assault charges in what state prosecutors say is an unprecedented case.
David Tant, a 57-year-old North Charleston resident, pleaded guilty in Greenwood County to 41 counts of dog fighting and one count of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.
The sentence by Circuit Judge Wyatt Saunders is believed to be the heaviest levied against anyone charged with dog fighting in South Carolina, according to the state Attorney General's office. It also is one of the heaviest handed out nationally, said Sandy Christiansen, a dog fighting expert with the Humane Society of the United States.
Tant can have his sentence reduced by 10 years if he pays more than $100,000 in restitution for activities associated with the crimes. However, he must serve the bulk of the remaining 30 years, prosecutor Jennifer Evans said.
"This sends a message to dogfighters and people who would participate in this vicious, brutal activity that there are consequences for their actions," Attorney General Henry McMaster said. "This man deserved a substantial sentence. He has been doing this for years."
Tant has long been associated with dog fighting, from advertisements in magazines linked to the sport to breeding animals for use in fighting, South Carolina authorities say. Christiansen said Tant sold fighting dogs nationally and internationally.
However, Tant ran into trouble last spring after a surveyor was shot and injured by a booby-trapped gun on Tant's property. This led police officers to raid his land, where they seized 47 pit bulls and other materials as evidence.
Tant said little in court during his trial and was taken to jail after the guilty pleas. Family members, hoping to minimise the sentence, had argued that Tant was a good, churchgoing man. Tant faced more than 200 years in prison on all the charges.
"We know he's made a mistake. He's a good man. He's not the bad man he appears through all of this," said Tant's sister, Linda.
Since a state dog fighting task force was formed last spring, authorities have made criminal cases against at least 28 people. The attorney general's office has cases pending against at least 22 people. Charges may be brought against people associated with Tant, prosecutors said. Until this year, cases against dogfighters in South Carolina have been sporadic.
The Humane Society of the United States hailed the state's successful prosecution of Tant as an important message to dogfighters nationwide.
"Mr. Tant has been around a long time in this business," the Humane Society's Eric Sakach said. "This is a good thing for South Carolina and a good thing nationally."
About 40,000 people are estimated to participate in dog fighting across the USA. According to a police training video shown recently in Columbia, dog fighting is a $500 million underground industry nationally.
Meanwhile, Tant's guilty plea means more than 40 Pit Bull Terriers he owned will be put to death.
The animals have been kept on what Tant called "death row" in a Charleston County shelter since spring, pending resolution of the trial. But Charlie Karesh, a shelter official, said the fighting dogs are too vicious to adopt out and should be euthanased. Housing them cost the county more than $100,000.
"We would be liable, and Charleston County would be liable, if we were to put one of these animals out to the public and it tore somebody up or tore up another animal," Karesh said.