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CROWN POINT — The 36-year-old Crown Point man accused of running a dangerous dog breeding operation in Center Township is seeking to stand trial outside Lake County.

The motion for change of venue was filed Friday morning at an initial court hearing for Steve Rajcinoski, who is accused of breeding and performing surgery on the dogs at a property in Center Township.

The Lake County Prosecutor's Office has also reached an agreement with Rajcinoski regarding the custody of the animals seized from his property by Lake County police.

The defendant has agreed to relinquish his rights to 68 of the seized animals — 64 dogs, three goats and a miniature horse — and he will post bond for the remaining nine dogs, according to a press release.

The bond will allow him to retain ownership of the animals until the pending criminal case is completed. If he is found guilty, then he will forfeit his rights to the animals, the release states.

Rajcinoski appeared at the initial court hearing with defense attorney Paul Stracci.

He stood in the cramped courtroom as Magistrate Judge Kathleen Sullivan read the charges against him: 11 counts of torturing or mutilating a vertebrate animal, 72 counts of cruelty to animals, 11 counts of practicing veterinary medicine without a license and one count of failure to register as a commercial breeder.

The charges stem from a May 3 police search at Rajcinoski's property in the 5900 block of West 125th Avenue, which allegedly turned up 68 maltreated dogs kept in a poorly ventilated garage.

Lake County police said they also found a bucket full of scalpels and medicine — evidence Rajcinoski may have been performing C-sections on the animals.

Sheriff John Buncich told The Times in June that Rajcinoski was a “sick individual” who practiced medicine on the dogs in “filthy conditions.”

Stracci said in his motion to change venue that those statements by the sheriff, among other “inflammatory” and “misleading” statements, have prejudiced the community against Rajcinoski.

The defense attorney said some incensed community members have launched a social media campaign against the defendant and contacted judges demanding he be punished.

The social media campaign has caused the recusal of three judges, all of whom cited social media posts as a reason for withdrawing from the case. The case is now before Judge Diane Boswell. 

A hearing on the motion to change venue is scheduled for Aug. 31.

The animals seized by police have been kept in police custody at the Lake County Sheriff's Animal Adoption & Control Center.

Mark Back, a spokesman for the sheriff's department, said Friday afternoon the relinquished animals would soon be up for adoption. 

"We have received many requests for adoption of these animals, so it is likely there will be a lottery system in order to make the process fair," Back said. 

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Courts and social justice reporter

Steve covers Lake County courts and social justice issues for The Times. The UW-Milwaukee graduate joined The Times in 2016 after reporting on criminal justice in New Mexico and Wisconsin.