Terry Peterson was a sucker for a cute kitten and a sweet-sounding story.
He paid a Northridge woman $230 for a male Burmese kitten, police said. Trouble was, it turned out to be neither Burmese nor male, he said.
"I was very embarrassed," said Peterson, 36, of Torrance. "When they told me it was a female street cat, I left the vet's with my tail between my legs."
His embarrassment turned to anger when he could not get his money back. So when he thought the scam was about to be repeated, he set a trap of his own, secretly videotaping a friend buying two kittens.
As a result, Los Angeles Animal Control Department officers arrested a woman Thursday they said has been involved in the illegal possession and sale of cats since 1983.
Jaie Brashar, 46, was arrested on suspicion of cruelty to animals after animal control officers and police found 34 cats at her apartment in the 16600 block of Devonshire Street, said Lt. Lisa Goodman of the Animal Control Department. She was released on $15,000 bail.
Brashar, who was on probation for earlier violations of animal welfare regulations, was also arrested Feb. 12 by Torrance police on suspicion of attempted grand theft for the kitten sale Peterson videotaped.
"This videotape may help us finally put her out of business," said Goodman, who has been receiving complaints on Brashar since 1983. The cats seized at her apartment, most of which were sick and malnourished, were held at the East Valley Animal Shelter.
Her apartment "smelled so bad we could hardly breathe. . . . It was disgusting," Goodman said.
The kitty caper began when Peterson saw an ad in The Times in October for pedigreed kittens. A dog-lover living in a cat-sized apartment, Peterson called, asking about Burmese kittens, which he had heard were especially well-behaved.
"She insisted on bringing them to my place," Peterson said.
The seller, who spoke with a British accent and identified herself as Genevieve Marsden, brought two kittens to his apartment and Peterson immediately bought one for cash. The seller promised to mail Peterson the pedigree papers.
"I trusted her as an expert . . . She spoke so eloquently. She's like the picture of the sweet little old lady who makes cookies for all the neighborhood kids," Peterson said. "She said the cats were all brought up on Gerber food and bottled water."
After the deception was discovered through a visit to a veterinarian the next day, Peterson called the woman but was unable to return the kitten because the address she gave him was false. He kept telephoning her until he was eventually told she had moved.
"I felt like a sucker," he said.
Then last week, he saw an advertisement offering "Bombay and other kittens. Gorgeous."
Peterson called, recognized the voice and arranged for a woman in his acting class to inquire about purchasing two Angora kittens for $450. The seller, who identified herself as Sybil Parking, agreed to the sale and traveled Feb. 12 to the Torrance home of Peterson's parents, who were away on vacation.
Before the meeting, Peterson arranged for Torrance police officers to arrive just after the woman filled out the bill of sale and asked for payment.
Brashar, who identified herself to Torrance police as Sybil St. James, was arrested on charges of attempted grand theft and was released after posting $5,900 bail, said Sgt. Ron Traber.
"We only discovered the magnitude of it after she left," he said.
After KCBS-TV broadcast a report on the arrest last weekend, Torrance police said they received "dozens of calls" from all over Southern California from people claiming they were victims.
"A woman out in Mission Viejo said she lost $1,000. A woman in Hermosa Beach also said she lost $1,000," Traber said.
"Her name always changes but the method is pretty much the same," said Detective Randy Kjenstad. "She always wants cash and she always insists on bringing the cats to your home. . . . We have a whole stack of scraps of paper from her car with people's names, their addresses and directions on how to get to their house."
Goodman then obtained a search warrant for Brashar's apartment and arrested her again.
"We received about 10 complaints on her in the past two months," Goodman said. "I still don't know how we're going to stop her. Probation doesn't seem to be doing anything."