A 26-year-old man is facing dozens of charges of theft and animal cruelty for allegedly selling sick puppies to Southern California families over the course of more than a year, according to Los Angeles County prosecutors.
Gustavo Gonzalez of Downey was charged Thursday with 28 felony counts of animal cruelty, one felony count of first-degree residential burglary and one felony count of grand theft, according to prosecutors. He was also charged with 22 misdemeanor counts of petty theft, court records show.
It was not immediately clear Friday if Gonzalez had an attorney.
Gonzalez was arrested at his home in the 9900 block of Downey Avenue about 8:30 a.m. Thursday. Video footage from the scene shows investigators removing a white box and several folders of evidence from the home. It is not clear if any dogs were taken from the property.
Gonzalez allegedly smuggled the puppies — which suffered a range of ailments like parvovirus, canine distemper, giardia, coccidia and roundworms — from Mexico and then advertised them online as healthy animals, according to a motion filed by prosecutors seeking to increase Gonzalez’s bail.
An officer with the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals wrote in the filing that Gonzalez posted classified advertisements on websites with “pictures and claims of vibrant and healthy puppies and then [sold] diseased puppies to vulnerable victims.”
Gonzalez used 40 different phone numbers and 15 aliases while communicating with potential customers, according to the filing.
Gonzalez is alleged to have sold 28 sick puppies to 25 families between February 2018 and April, prosecutors said. However, officials indicate in court papers that he may have sold dogs to as many as 93 people who paid him more than $68,000.
Many families also incurred sizable veterinarian bills to keep their new pet alive. Often those efforts were not successful. More than half the dogs he sold died shortly after their new owners took them home, according to the court filing.
“The defendant will continue to make a living from trafficking diseased and ill puppies even after having full knowledge of the trail of animal suffering that he is leaving behind,” the motion states. “The defendant’s actions are callous and with no regard for the victims and their families.”
Gonzalez is being held at the Inmate Reception Center in Los Angeles in lieu of $740,000 bail. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 36 years in custody.
It is not clear specifically what breed of dogs Gonzalez was allegedly selling. The puppies — whose names include Coco, Joker, Chip, Dale, Chance and Lucky — were typically sold to families for $700 to $800, according to officials and a criminal complaint filed in the case.
“This is the type of thing we encounter all the time,” said Madeline Bernstein, president of the Los Angeles SPCA chapter.
Families looking for a new pet should visit a shelter or a responsible breeder rather than looking for a bargain online that often ends up “not being a deal at all,” she said.
“It’s not good for the dogs or for your families for this practice to continue,” she said.
Authorities are continuing to investigate the case and identify other possible victims. Anyone who believes they may have been a victim is asked to call the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs at (800) 593-8222.