Mayor charged in connection with taking neighbors' pet

Sunday, January 20, 2008

ALICE, Texas -- The allegations could bring down the mayor of this South Texas town: a faked death, an attempt to hide the evidence from police, a cover-up story.

And for what? A Shih Tzu.

Mayor Grace Saenz-Lopez was indicted Friday on two felony counts of tampering with physical evidence related to a dog her neighbors say she took from them.

According to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times and the San Antonio Express-News, Saenz-Lopez had agreed to take care of Puddles while Rudy Gutierrez and Shelly Cavazos were on vacation over the summer. A day after they left, she called to say the dog was dead, but three months later a relative of Cavazos saw Puddles -- renamed Panchito -- at a dog groomer.

Puddles' family sued and filed a criminal complaint, but the case took a new turn Monday when the mayor filed a police report saying the dog was missing.

A television crew found the dog 10 miles from Alice in Ben Bolt, at the home of Saenz-Lopez's twin, Graciela Garcia. Garcia said a "mysterious lady" had found the dog and dropped it off.

Garcia was indicted on a felony count of concealing evidence, said District Attorney Joe Frank Garza. She and the mayor have been released on bond.

A hearing is set for Feb. 4 in the lawsuit against Saenz-Lopez, where state District Judge Richard Terrell will decide the custody battle over the dog, said DeeAnn Torres, the attorney for Gutierrez and Cavazos.

"We just wanted the puppy back," Torres said.

Convictions on the felonies would cost Saenz-Lopez her office, City Manager Albert Uresti said.

She could lose it sooner; a recall effort is underway.

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