LOS ANGELES - A Downey man is facing more than 50 criminal charges stemming from the sale of 28 puppies most of which prosecutors say subsequently died appeared in downtown courtroom on Monday but his arraignment was postponed to next month.
Gustavo Gonzalez, 26, is charged with 28 felony counts of cruelty to an animal, along with one felony count each of first-degree residential burglary and grand theft. He is also charged with 22 misdemeanor counts of petty theft.
Gonzalez did not enter a plea and was ordered to return to court on July 18 for arraignment and a bail review hearing.
Following the brief hearing, Gonzalez' newly hired defense attorney, Robert Ernenwein, told reporters he hopes the public can keep an open mind and wait for the evidence to unfold.
"I would remind everyone that although these are very serious and very difficult allegations to even comprehend, that he is presumed innocent and we plan on entering a not guilty plea. We plan on very carefully evaluating the evidence in this case and reaching a just conclusion, ultimately, whatever that might be," Ernenwein said.
The defense lawyer said he also planned to fight for a "significant" reduction in bail, currently set at $740,000.
Gonzalez is accused of selling the puppies to 25 families throughout Southern California between February 2018 and April 2019, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office. The puppies, which were sold through the website craigslist, included a French bulldog, a chocolate lab and a beagle, according to Ricardo Santiago of the District Attorney's Office. Most of the puppies died after being sold, according to prosecutors.
Gonzalez was taken into custody Thursday by Downey police, Santiago said. He could face up to 36 years behind bars if convicted as charged.
FOX 11 questioned Gonzalez at least four times during a two-year investigation about selling sick puppies out of his car after advertising the animals on craigslist. A woman who bought two dogs from Gonzalez -- both of which died -- told the station Friday that she "promised both of them that I would get him."
"I told him I was gonna get him, and we got him, finally," she said.
FOX 11 reported that several dogs were found inside Gonzalez's home when he was arrested, some of them dead.
The station's probe eventually spurred the involvement of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs, the District Attorney's Office's Bureau of Investigation and the Downey Police Department.
"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."
Anyone who bought a dog from Gonzalez that had unexpected health issues or experienced premature death was asked to contact a Department of Consumer and Business Affairs consumer counselor by telephone at 800-593-8222 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CNS contributed to this story.