Four suspects in the Green Acre dog-death case, including the son of Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, should be charged with 21 felonies each, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said on Tuesday.
"I'm confident that we have the proper evidence" for criminal charges, Arpaio told reporters at the office's headquarters in downtown Phoenix.
No arrests have been made since 23 dogs were found dead the morning of June 19 at Green Acre Dog Boarding facility, 15723 East Appleby Road in Gilbert. The animals had apparently suffocated from lack of oxygen after being forced together for the night inside a 108-square-foot room.
Detectives are recommending 21 felony charges of "cruel neglect,", plus "several" misdemeanors, for Austin Flake, his wife, Logan Flake, and the owners of Green Acre Dog Boarding, MaLeisa Hughes (Logan Flake's mother) and her husband, Jesse Todd Hughes. According to a preliminary investigation, the Hughes were vacationing in Florida and had left Austin and Logan Flake in charge of the dogs. Pet owners had no idea the Hughes were out of town -- nor that their four-legged family members had been crammed into a small room.
Now it's up to the County Attorney's Office to consider the investigative report submitted by the Sheriff's Office and determine whether to move forward with criminal charges.
The recommended charges for the group include those resulting from the death of two rabbits at the facility late last month, Arpaio said.
Investigators hired an expert to determine the airflow in the shed, which had one vent and a door that had been caulked tightly to prevent any smell from seeping into the rest of the Hughes' house.
Arpaio had faced some criticism because his office took so long with the investigation, and because his office briefly called the animal deaths an "accident." Skeptics wonder whether political considerations have any influence on the case. Arpaio made the case the top priority of his office, and said Tuesday the probe took three months because it was "complicated" and had to be thorough. But he also noted the small protest at the MCSO headquarters on Saturday. As can be seen on a Facebook site set up for the tragedy, a few people showed up, including one dressed as a dog, and another holding a sign that read, "Arpaio, Don't Act Like a Flake." An online petition urging criminal charges in the case has about 1,300 supporters.
Arpaio denied that Senator Flake has anything to do with the case, and that they haven't spoken about it. He recalled saying hello to Senator Flake on August 26, the night of the primary election, during the Republican Party's victory party at the Hyatt Regency.
"He happened to come up to me," Arpaio said. "I shook his hand. He was very friendly. That was it."
Arpaio didn't release any new details that explain why his investigators feel criminal charges are warranted. Austin Flake declined to speak with a detective who flew to Provo, Utah, hoping for an interview.
David Gillette of Gilbert, whose two older dogs died at the facility, told reporters after Arpaio's news conference that he won't "judge" the actions of the Flakes. He said he was led to believe that the facility only kept six or seven dogs boarded at a time, and that they'd be allowed to roam the one-acre property and Hughes' house. He and his family have since adopted another dog, he said.
MaLeisa Hughes is a blogger and mom to eight children, including foster kids. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing from 2009 shows that she had previously worked as a credit analyst, while her husband had been a technician for a pest control company. They had a combined monthly income of $6,155, yet had managed to rack up $51,000 in consumer debt. Two of their vehicles were repossessed.
MaLeisa Hughes and a co-signer, Jesse D. Hughes Jr of Alaska, apparently a relative of Jesse Todd Hughes, took out a 30-year loan of $357,000 for the property and finalized its purchase just a few days before the dogs turned up dead, records show.
MaLeisa Hughes' last name has changed several times due to previous marriages. Family court records show she was MaLeisa Green when she got a divorce in 1988, MaLeisa Vinski after a 1990 annulment, and MaLeisa Brown just before she married Hughes.
In a YouTube clip featuring raw video from a Channel 10 (KSAZ-TV) News interview, MaLeisa Hughes suggests the room was big enough for the dogs, saying what happened was a "disgusting, sad accident."
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