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THE NATION

Texas mayor is in a puddle of trouble

Still refusing to return a stolen pet, she faces felony charges.

January 19, 2008|Miguel Bustillo | Times Staff Writer

HOUSTON — A Texas mayor who admitted stealing her neighbor's Shih Tzu was indicted Friday on felony charges -- a serious turn in a canine custody drama that has become the butt of jokes in the Lone Star State.

Grace Saenz-Lopez, the mayor of Alice, was indicted on charges of concealing and falsifying evidence by a Jim Wells County grand jury. Each count is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The mayor filed a report with police Jan. 13 stating that the pooch -- named Puddles by its original owners, but which she renamed Panchito and was refusing to relinquish -- had gone missing.

Two days later, a television reporter discovered the dog at the home of the mayor's twin, Gracy, a local school board member. The sister now also faces felony charges for concealing the pooch.

The dog originally belonged to Rudy Gutierrez and Shelly Cavazos, who asked Saenz-Lopez to dog-sit last summer while they took their children to an amusement park. The mayor told them that the dog had died while they were away -- only to admit later that she still had it after Cavazos' aunt saw the dog on Halloween at a local groomer's.

Saenz-Lopez has refused to return the dog, saying it had been neglected by Gutierrez and Cavazos. A civil court hearing was scheduled for Feb. 4 to determine who should keep it.

"We tell children not to lie or steal, and here we have a mayor who is stealing dogs? What kind of example does that set?" asked Dee Ann Torres, the attorney for Gutierrez and Cavazos. Neither the mayor nor her attorney could be reached for comment.

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miguel.bustillo@latimes.com

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