A Southern California man accused of hawking deathly ill puppies to unwitting families across the region has been arrested, according to prosecutors.
Gustavo Gonzalez, a 26-year-old Downey man, is accused of selling 28 puppies to 25 families across the Los Angeles area — but most of the dogs died once they were in their new homes, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced Thursday in a news release.
Gonzalez faces 52 criminal charges including 28 felony counts of animal cruelty, as well as felony counts of first-degree residential burglary and grand theft, prosecutors said. He also faces 22 misdemeanor petty theft counts.
He was selling the puppies that the charges relate to as recently as April, prosecutors said.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles spearheaded the investigation that resulted in Gonzalez’s arrest, according to a news release from the animal welfare group.
The arrest came during a raid Thursday morning, KTLA reports.
Gonzalez is being held on $740,000 bail, prosecutors said. Gonzalez would face up to 36 years behind bars if convicted. He is set to appear in court June 10.
FOX 11 has been tracking Gonzalez for more than two years, as he has duped families into buying pets over Craigslist — animals that often would die just days, weeks or months after they were purchased, according to the TV station.
The TV station has confronted him repeatedly about the alleged scheme, including in November, when the station reported that it obtained “a shocking incident report from San Diego County Animal Control” showing Gonzalez was stopped at the U.S.-Mexico border with “a crate full of thirteen puppies, one was dead” and may have had parvo, which is a contagious illness in dogs.
The report said Gonzalez told agents he buys puppies for a couple hundred dollars in Mexico and then sells them in the U.S. when they’re older, according to the TV station.
One victim, Bruce Hamilton of Thousand Oaks, said he bought a golden retriever named Stella from Gonzalez in 2018, according to FOX.
“The dog immediately had diarrhea the second it was in my car, and he brought out a puppy pad to make sure it was on the seat, so he knew what was going to happen,” Hamilton said, adding that the next day Stella’s condition was worse, FOX reported. “She pretty well collapsed — I thought, I have to get this dog to a vet.”
The dog tested positive for parvo and was dead within days, FOX reported.
Prosecutors encouraged other possible victims to call the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs (DCBA) at (800) 593-8222.
“Families expect years of joy and great memories when they purchase a puppy. The last thing they should expect is to see their companion suffer pain or early death,” Joseph M. Nicchitta, director of the county’s Department of Consumer and Business Affairs, said in a statement. “No business model should profit by exploiting unsuspecting families.”
The SPCA, District Attorney’s Office and Downey Police Department are still investigating, prosecutors said.