Arizona boarding kennel owners re-charged in deaths of 21 dogs

Reuters News
Posted: May 06, 2015 6:42 PM

By David Schwartz

PHOENIX (Reuters) - The owners of a suburban Phoenix dog boarding facility have been re-indicted on animal cruelty and fraud charges stemming from the deaths in June of 21 dogs at their kennel while they were on a trip to Florida, prosecutors said on Wednesday.

A grand jury indicted Jesse Todd Hughes, 32, and Maleisa Hughes, 45, on 21 felony and seven misdemeanor abuse charges each in the deaths at the Green Acre facility, prosecutors said.

They were also indicted on one count of fraudulent schemes. Authorities said the dogs died of overheating and suffocation.

Prosecutors said the Hughes left the facility in the care of Austin and Logan Flake, the son and daughter-in-law of U.S. Senator Jeff Flake.

Charges against the Flakes were dismissed late last year, along with all but a fraud charge against the Hughes. The grand jury's decision reinstates the charges against the Hughes.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said prosecutors decided to present the grand jury with a case against the owners of the business where the animals were kept.

"That reflected the best posture for evidence that we have to present to a jury," Montgomery told a news conference, adding that the case was strongest against the owners.

Robert Jarvis, an attorney for the Hughes, told reporters the couple did nothing to warrant criminal charges.  

"There was no valid basis initially and there's no valid basis now," he said.

Authorities said the Hughes were away in Florida when the caretakers found 21 dogs dead and dying after being kept in a 9-by-12-foot room. The caretakers said they found there had been a power outage.

Sheriff's investigators reported that the owners said the outage was caused by one or more of the dogs chewing through an electric cable.

But evidence from the Flakes' lawyers blamed a dirty air filter in an air-conditioning unit. That finding was made after the Hughes and the Flakes were first indicted in October.

In December, the charges against the Flakes were dismissed and all but one count was withdrawn against the Hughes.

An attorney for the dogs' owners said they were worried the Flakes will not be held responsible.

"How could the people who were there not be charged?" asked John Schill, who represents the pet owners in a civil suit that accuses the Hughes and Flakes of fraud and neglect.

The Hughes will be arraigned on June 3.

(This version of the story was refiled to correct to Flakes' lawyers, not Hughes, in paragraph 12)

(Reporting by David Schwartz; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Eric Beech)