Princess on cockfight charge: Daughter of exiled Romanian king arrested over animal cruelty on her Oregon ranch

Blades were attached to birds' legs and paying spectators were then sold refreshments at the fights, claims federal indictment

A member of Romania's former royal family has appeared in a US court accused of operating an illegal cockfighting ring together with her husband, a former sheriff's deputy. Princess Irina Walker, 60, and her husband John Wesley Walker, 67, were among six people arrested over claims the couple staged cockfights and organised illegal gambling at their Oregon ranch. Twelve others from Oregon and Washington face lesser charges of conspiracy to violate the Animal Welfare Act through illegal animal fighting. Cockfights, in which the birds fight to the death, are banned in all US states.

Princess Irina is the third daughter of King Michael I, now 91, who was forced to abdicate the Romanian throne by Communists in 1947 and exiled. The couple, who married in 2007, run a chicken farm and a carpentry workshop. Mr Walker reportedly served as a sergeant in the Myrtle Point Police Department before joining the Coos County Sheriff's Office in 1998. He left that job in 2003.

Prosecutors claim the Walkers ran 10 cockfighting events in the north-western state in 2012 and this year. Blades were attached to birds' legs and paying spectators were then sold refreshments at the fights, the federal indictment said.

The events apparently featured numerous cockfights, much like a fight card on a boxing night, and allegedly raised $2,000 a day. A referee supervised the fights as concessionaires sold beer and food. Those managing the action took a 10 per cent "house" cut, prosecutors said.

The couple have been charged with operating an illegal gambling business and conspiracy to violate the Animal Welfare Act. If found guilty, they could face up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Prosecutors now want to seize the couple's ranch, called Strokes Landing Sport Horses, in Irrigon, Morrow County. Both the former princess and former law enforcement officer have pleaded not guilty and been released on bail.

"Besides being barbaric, cockfighting jeopardises public health and safety and facilitates the commission of other criminal acts," said Amanda Marshall, US Attorney for the district of Oregon. She alleged that the "fairly large-scale cockfighting venture" also supported illegal gambling.

Alongside the Walkers, their neighbours David Sanchez, 29, and Aurelia Garcia Mendoza, 33, and Hermiston friends Mario "El Cuba" Perez, 62, and Jose Luis Virgin Ramirez, 48, were charged in connection with operating an illegal gambling business at the Walkers' ranch.

Ten of the suspects, all men, were arrested around 68 miles from Irrigon in Washington's Yakima Valley.

A statement on the Romanian royal family's website said the king had noted with "deep sorrow the events related to Princess Irina of Romania". It said King Michael I hoped the US justice system and courts would act quickly. According to local reports, Princess Irina, left, had returned to Romania only "a few times".

The cockfighting arrests follow a similar crackdown in the Pacific north-west. In 2006, the towns of Molalla, Grand Ronde, Warm Springs, Woodburn and Sunny Valley in Oregon and Wapto, Sunnyside and Prosser in Washington held a dozen cockfight derbies, which 63 people were accused of helping to stage.

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