Pet theft cases plummeted in 2001

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2002:

ALLENTOWN, Pa.–Allegedly smashing a stolen van through the
door of a local pet shop at 5 a.m., grabbing two Chihuahuas and two
exotic birds, and attempting escape with police in hot pursuit,
Luis Antonio Bracero, 24, and Ramon Alberto Maldonado-Cruz, 20,
of Allentown, Pennsyl-vania, on January 12, 2002 apparently
exemplified most of the current trends in pet theft: they took both
birds and dogs, took only animals of high resale value, and got
caught.


Most other recent pet theft news of note has also involved
alleged perpetrators getting caught.
On January 2, 2002, for instance, the USDA Animal and
Plant Health Inspection Service filed eight felony counts each
against former laboratory supplier and self-professed greyhound
rescuer Daniel Shonka, 49, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and associate
Heidi Dierks, 30, of Hudson, Wisconsin. Both were charged with
Animal Welfare Act violations and racketeering for allegedly taking
341 dogs from racing kennel owners with the promise that they would
be adopted into good homes, and then selling the dogs to the Guidant
Corporation for a total of $374,000. Guidant, of St. Paul,
Minnesota, allegedly used the greyhounds to test heart implant
devices.
Working the kennel area at the now-closed St. Croix Meadows
dog racing track in Hudson, Shonka and Dierks took advantage of a
1991 Wisconsin law which requires that retired racing greyhounds must
either be returned to their owners, sent to breeding facilities, or
be adopted.
As the case was cracked in 2000, the 341 alleged
thefts-by-deception are listed among the 2000 totals in the chart of
“Verified U.S. pet theft cases,” at right.
No new cases of alleged pet theft for laboratory use surfaced
in 2001, but ANIMAL PEOPLE was told by several people about
disappearances of dogs in Tennessee in alleged proximity to a
USDA-licensed supplier of dogs to labs, and Lexington Herald-Leader
reporter Laura Yuen simultaneously investigated the alleged theft of
60 dogs in Kentucky. Some of the missing dogs were later found dead,
apparent victims of dogfighters, individual sadists, and
hit-and-run drivers.

False alarms

False claims that a pet was stolen often come from people who
seek to evade reponsibility for losing or dumping a pet, especially
a pet who has been abused or neglected, has been found at large, or
has bitten someone. Rarely, however, have false claims about pet
theft landed in court.
Two recently decided Pennsylvania cases were exceptions, of
sorts. In late January 2002 a Fayette County jury ordered Tri-County
Humane Protection Inc. to pay $105,000 and the Fayette SPCA to pay
$96,000 to dairy farmer John Tabaj, of Dunbar, for alleged invasion
of privacy in 1993 while investigating the purported theft of a dog
and cruelty to a heifer reported by Tabaj’s former son-in-law during
a messy divorce case. After a joint raid by six uniformed humane
officers, four of them armed, Tabaj was charged with five counts of
cruelty, but the charges were later dropped. The incident caused
the Pennsylvania legislature to mandate in December 1994 that humane
officers must be appointed by a judge.
The other Pennsylvania false report case began in 1998, when
cat fancier Evelyn Rapp, of Dover, paid $1,050 to breeder Kathy
Robin Crocker of Coldwater, Michigan, for two Maine coon cats.
Rapp then said the cats were unhealthy and returned them, demanding
her money back. Claiming Rapp had neglected the cats, Crocker
refused to make repayment. Rapp in 2000 purportedly invited Crocker
to Pennsylvania to discuss a settlement, then had her jailed for
alleged theft. On December 26, 2001, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jo Ann
Stevenson ordered Rapp to pay Crocker damages of $7,810 for the four
days she spent in jail while her husband sought a bail bond.
Also in 2001, judges dismissed at least three cases in which
cat owners accused neighbors of stealing cats who roamed at large
until they were adopted as presumed strays.
In a case with a more sinister twist, Vermont State Police
on January 15 announced that Topsham kennel owner Rebecca Osborne,
38, would be charged with making a false report for claiming that
she was assaulted by a stranger who stole a Walker coonhound puppy.
“She was definitely doing it for some financial gain,”
Trooper Edward Twohig said, without specifying how Osborne might
have profited. Osborne was also to be charged with an earlier
alleged false report of a burglary.
About half of all verified dog and cat thefts in 2001 were in
evident connection with dogfighting, including about 60 of the 68
solved cases of theft for alleged violent abuse, and 61 other cases
involving thefts of pit bull terriers who were held as evidence in
dogfighting cases. The pit bull thefts, plus the theft of 14
alleged fighting cocks held as evidence at one shelter, drove the
number of thefts from shelters in 2001 to a record 108.
Would-be rescuers allegedly stole 42 dogs and cats in 2001,
mainly from shelters. Eleven dogs and cats allegedly stolen for
resale were recovered. Of the 135 alleged dog and cat thefts in 2001
that remained unsolved at year’s end, most involved pricy purebreds.
Reported bird thefts soared–but all of the increase involved
the alleged theft of about 400 racing pigeons from fanciers in the
upper midwest. Only 41 parrots and 22 other pet birds were reported
stolen.
Like Bracero and Maldonado-Cruz, moreover, most of the
alleged parrot thieves in 2001 were swiftly captured. As 2001 ended,
only one alleged parrot thief had been convicted, but eight others
were facing charges and were expected to accept plea bargains. At
least nine alleged dog and cat thieves were convicted, and one
reptile thief.
However, the number of convicted perpetrators may actually
be far higher than ANIMAL PEOPLE can confirm. As in past years,
many cases involved juveniles, and many others may have been settled
by plea bargain to lesser charges which were not reported as being in
connection with pet theft.

Alleged fraud

Patricia Edmondson, 45, on August 13, 2001 rejected a plea
bargain that would have sent her to New Jersey state prison for eight
years on 15 counts of fraud. Edmondson allegedly took 27 pets,
including many pit bull terriers, plus “placement fees” of up to
$250 per animal from patrons of a business she ran called
“Save-A-Pet,” in Elmwood Park, New Jersey. The fate of the animals
is unknown. Edmondson told the court that she had left New Jersey.
She is due for trial in 2002.
William Arnold Muniz, 40, pleaded guilty on November 26 in
San Francisco federal court to two counts of defrauding owners of
missing pets. Nine other counts were dropped as part of the plea
bargain. Muniz and his wife Catherine Ann Malandish, 31, of Reno,
allegedly took a total $10,000 from at least 16 people by promising
to return animals whom they read about in lost pet ads. Posing as a
French Canadian trucker or tourist, say investigators, Muniz would
pretend to need the money for veterinary expenses, or to send the
animal home from a distant location.
On parole for alleged embezzling while committing the “found
pet” scam, Muniz since 1983 was previously convicted of at least 15
offenses, including pet theft, in Alameda County, California, and
also reportedly had priors in Nevada. Muniz is to be sentenced on
February 6. Malandish faces related Nevada state charges.
San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer Janice Zuniga on
December 2, 2001 detailed a similar fraud scheme now under
investigation by authorities in both the U.S. and Mexico. As in
Muniz’ scheme, the swindler calls someone who has lost a pet–but
calls collect, from Mexico, using telephone carriers whose minimum
charge reportedly ranges from $20 to $60.
“Earlier in 2001,” wrote Zuniga, “consumers who were
victims of a long-running collect call scam got refunds or credits
after the Texas Attorney General’s Office investigated consumer
complaints and filed a lawsuit against Southwest Intelecom, based in
Austin, Texas. According to complaints, people with Hispanic
surnames were targeted by callers from Mexico pretending to be
relatives. Investigations are ongoing in California and Texas.
According to the Texas investigation, Southwest Intelecom paid
commissions of up to 72% to agents it hired to generate the bogus
calls.
“The name ZPDI, Zero Plus Dialing, appeared” on the bills
of the lost pet scam victims, Zuniga continued. “Southwest
Intelecom, long-distance carriers, and operator service companies
hire ZPDI to process charges. ZPDI settled with the Texas Attorney
General by agreeing to reimburse any customers who qualified as
victims.”
ZPDI public relations director Rolf Gatlin told Zuniga that
ZPDI would “look into the originating number and try to figure out if
there is someone not doing the right thing,” Zuniga said.
–M.C.
Verified U.S. pet theft cases, 1978-2001

Years Perps Convct Dogs Cats Labs Hurt Save Scam Unkwn Bird Herp
1978/87 8 0 49 1 45 2 1 2 0
1988/91 40 18 300 152 334 106 7 2 3
1992/93 33 11 193 27 77 81 50 2 10
1994/98 108 13 219 27 0 91 19 26 110 4683 88
1999 107 19 527 12 300 70 43 4 120 105 41
2000 134 15 548 15 341 31 11 11 168 282 35
2001 82 10 256 25 0 68 42 11 135 477 32

Between 1978 and 1987, 13 states repealed laws requiring
public animal shelters to surrender animals to research institutions.
Attention to pet theft soared from 1988 through 1991, after the
first introduction of the bill which became the Pet Theft Act,
adopted as part of the 1990 Farm Bill. The Pet Theft Act took effect
on January 1, 1993. Vigorous USDA enforcement followed until April
19, 1995, when the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrow Federal Building
in Oklahoma City killed Midwest Stolen Pet Task Force chief Richard
Cummins and six of his staff. The rising numbers of verified dog and
cat thefts for lab use during 1999-2000 may reflect a recovery of
USDA ability to pursue cases; the drop in 2001 may reflect lab
suppliers getting the word
Thefts of birds and reptiles are not included in the totals
pertaining to perpetrators and motives. (Labs, Hurt, Save, Scam,
Unknown) The only common motive appears to be profit by illicit sale
as pet.

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