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Former UB Football Players Arraigned on Animal Cruelty Charge for Hitting Dog with Belt

UPDATE (2/22/2024): Hiligh and Pilarcek pleaded guilty to one count of Disorderly Conduct (violation) before Amherst Town Court Justice Ann Nichols on February 7, 2024. Both defendants were sentenced to a one-year conditional discharge and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service. Additionally, Hiligh was ordered to surrender the dog.

PRESS RELEASE (6/29/2023):

Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn announces that 19-year-old Blake I. Hiligh of Alexandria, Virginia and 20-year-old Zachary F. Pilarcek of Endicott, New York were arraigned this morning before Amherst Town Court Justice Geoffrey Klein. Both defendants are charged with one count of Overdriving, Torturing and Injuring Animals; Failure to Provide Proper Sustenance (misdemeanor under New York Agriculture and Markets Law).

The defendants became the subject of an investigation after the SPCA Serving Erie County received a report of animal abuse. It is alleged that on the evening of June 13, 2023, at approximately 9:00 p.m., the defendants, while acting in concert with one another, beat a dog under their care and custody with a leather belt. The alleged crime occurred inside of an apartment on Sweet Home Road in the Town of Amherst. A video of the alleged incident was posted on social media.

The following day, on June 14, 2023, the SPCA Serving Erie County seized the dog, a 4-year-old male miniature Poodle named “Kobe.” Both defendants were charged and given an appearance ticket to be arraigned today. The dog was immediately transported to the SPCA Serving Erie County’s veterinary team where he received treatment for bruises and abrasions. “Kobe” remains under the care of the SPCA at an undisclosed location. 

Hiligh and Pilarcek, both University at Buffalo football players, were subsequently suspended then dismissed from the program.

Pilarcek is scheduled to return on Thursday, July 27, 2023 at 9:30 a.m. for further proceedings. Hiligh is scheduled to return on Thursday, August 3, 2023 at 9:30 a.m. for further proceedings. Both were released on their own recognizance as charge is a non-qualifying offense for bail. Judge Klein issued a temporary order that prevents that defendants from owning or caring for any animals while the case is pending.

If convicted of the charge, both defendants face a maximum sentence of one year in jail.   

“I want to thank our partners at the SPCA for their work in this investigation and the many services that they provide to help animals in our community. I also commend the University at Buffalo and the UB Football program for taking immediate action, which further demonstrates that animal abuse will not be tolerated in this community,” said Erie County DA John Flynn

DA Flynn commends SPCA Animal Cruelty Investigators Jennifer Maleskis and Lindsey Wood and SPCA Agent Nicole Abrams as well as University at Buffalo Police for their work in this investigation.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Christine M. Garvey of the Felony Trials Bureau and Assistant District Attorney Richard K. Barney, III of the Justice Courts Bureau.

As are all persons accused of a crime, the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.