DOWNTOWN — Two men pleaded not guilty Monday to allegations that they tried to extort cash from a Van Nuys man at the In-N-Out on Brand Boulevard after finding his dog.
Rickey Butler, 21, and Andrew Cole, 24, were charged with one felony count of attempted extortion in connection with the Nov. 23 incident, according to a criminal complaint.
The pair allegedly found the dog, a mixed breed named Pongo, after it escaped from a residential backyard in Van Nuys, Glendale Police Sgt. Tom Lorenz said.
Cole allegedly called the number on Pongo's name tag and told the owner that he was with Butler, who found his pet and wanted $500 for it, according to police reports.
The owner instead offered $50, but Cole allegedly maintained his $500 offer and the call ended.
The owner then called back and said he would be able to pay only $286, leading to planned meet in Glendale, but not before calling Glendale police for help. Officers met him in a Burger King parking lot, where they called Cole and recorded the conversation.
Cole and Butler would agree to the exchange only if he paid $280, according to police reports.
Fearful that the pair would flee with his dog, he offered to withdraw $300 from an ATM and meet them at the In-N-Out restaurant on Brand Boulevard and Broadway, according to police reports.
Meanwhile, police allegedly traced the phone number back to Cole, a local transient on probation for assault with a deadly weapon, according to police reports.
An undercover police officer accompanied the owner to Brand and Broadway, where they allegedly saw Butler holding Pongo on a leash.
Butler and Cole were told to meet him to the rear of the restaurant, where police were waiting, according to reports.
Another pet local pet owner, Chloe Noble, also feared the worse when someone stole her Japanese Chin from her husband's locked truck Nov. 17 during a shopping trip.
Noble and her husband adopted the older, blind dog, named Chin-Chin, three years ago from a shelter, so they worried about it getting hurt off on its own.
Her husband left the dog locked inside his truck while he picked up groceries from Von's Supermarket on Foothill Boulevard, she said.
When he returned, Chin-Chin was gone.
The couple notified Glendale police, who later found the dog at the Crescenta Valley Sheriff's Station. Someone had taken the dog to the sheriff's station after it had been roaming around a local eatery without a collar, Noble added.
Police told her that they suspected someone broke into the truck to steal valuables and took the dog because it looked expensive, But once they realized the dog had no resale value because it was old and blind, they dumped it, Noble said.
"I don't know what would have happened to me if they didn't find her," Noble said. "It was very traumatizing."