LOS ANGELES, CA (FOX 11) - WARNING: Some of the video in this story may be disturbing
For the fourth time in nearly two years, FOX 11 is tracking down and confronting a man accused of illegally selling sick and dying dogs to unsuspecting customers responding to his Craigslist ads.
Now, animal cruelty investigators with SPCA Los Angeles have launched their own criminal investigation of his actions as a result of FOX 11’s reports.
Throughout 2018, FOX 11 has been contacted by nearly a dozen of Gustavo Gonzalez’s alleged victims, all claiming that Gonzalez sold them a puppy that would either die within days, or was so sick it required thousands of dollars in vet bills to keep alive.
Many of the dogs are now dead from either parvo or distemper, and some were sold as recently as last month. Gonzalez has continued to use fake names, and he’s been able to operate largely unchecked by law enforcement.
FOX 11 first began investigating Gonzalez in early 2017, when we found he had sold several sick puppies to customers responding to his online ads. Several of the puppies died of parvo within days of coming home.
The victims claimed Gonzalez wouldn’t refund their money, stopped taking calls, and even changed his phone number, but FOX 11 was able to track him down multiple times at South Bay parking lots, where he was using fake names while trying to illegally sell puppies.
Last fall, FOX 11 confronted Gonzalez for a third time after he allegedly sold a sick French bulldog puppy to a woman at a park in Hermosa Beach.
The previous reports can be seen here:
After that investigation aired, all was quiet for several months. But 2018 would bring an overwhelming wave of new alleged victims, and it would appear business has been booming for Gonzalez this year.
“Have you ever been so angry, that you feel like you’re broken?” said a Victorville man who asked we conceal his identity. For the purpose of this report, he will be called Craig.
Craig saw one of Gonzalez’s Craigslist ads in July, so he met him at a park in Torrance and paid him $700 for a golden retriever puppy he named Julie. At first, she was the perfect addition to the family, the other dogs loved her, as did the kids, but within hours, she began vomiting and had diarrhea.
“She was basically exploding out of both ends,” Craig said.
Craig's wife gave Julie an IV to try and get her fluids up, but she didn’t improve, and after a trip to the vet she was diagnosed with the deadly and highly contagious parvovirus. Treatments didn’t work, and Bollens had to make the agonizing decision to put her down.
“I just looked into her eyes and I felt her drift away as she was looking at me,” Craig said. “Every part of me that was trying to be a man went away.”
Believe it or not, Craig's trauma was only just beginning.
He texted Gonzalez about Julie’s death, Gonzalez replied using the fake name “Michael”, and offered a replacement dog for the family. Gonzalez said the new dog had been vaccinated for parvo twice and “looks pretty good” to him.
Craig met Gonzalez in Torrance again, and came home with Chance, a golden retriever he thought looked skinny and depressed.
“I felt bad for the dog, that’s why I named him Chance, I felt like he deserved a chance,” Craig said.
But just like Julie, almost immediately, Chance wouldn’t eat, and had diarrhea.
“It was like Oh my God, the same thing all over again, two times in a row,” Craig said.
After another trip to the vet, Chance was also diagnosed with parvo, he too had to be put down less than 48 hours after he came home.
“I feel really bad, because Chance didn’t get a Chance,” Craig said.
Claremont resident Christina Maycock and her son say they had their experience with Gonzalez in April.
“He’s a jerk,” Maycock said. “There’s a special place in hell for him.”
Maycock’s husband has terminal cancer, and she thought a new puppy would be therapeutic for the family. Her son saw Gonzalez’s online ad, and met him at a Torrance parking lot. He came home with a golden retriever puppy named Leila for $700.
“She was sweet, she would sleep with us, she was cute,” Maycock said.
But Leila’s health immediately deteriorated and she began suffering from seizures.
"She wasn't okay, she was foaming at the mouth, she was seizing," Maycock said. "I could tell she was really suffering, and I didn't want that for her."
Leila went to the vet, where she was diagnosed with canine distemper. She wasn't going to survive, and just three days after coming home, she also had to be put down.
Throughout 2018, FOX 11 has been contacted by numerous alleged victims all across the Southland, all claiming that Gonzalez sold them sick dogs via Craigslist.
FOX 11 has also obtained a shocking incident report from San Diego County Animal Control.
According to the report, in April 2016, Gonzalez was stopped at the San Ysidro Port of Entry while coming into the United States from Mexico. He had a crate full of thirteen puppies, one was dead and "smelled slightly of parvo", and another puppy later had to be euthanized.
The report states Gonzalez told investigators he buys puppies in Mexico for $150-200 each, brings the puppies into the United States, waits for them to get bigger, then sells them.
The report claims Gonzalez said he has "learned his lesson" and will "never do something like this again." That was two and a half years ago.
FOX 11's investigations of Gonzalez eventually caught the attention of law enforcement, and animal cruelty investigators with SPCA Los Angeles launched their own criminal investigation.
In July, 2018, they invited FOX 11 to a sting operation at a mall in Torrance after they responded to one of Gonzalez's online ads acting as interested buyers.
Gonzalez gave SPCALA the fake name Michael, and he showed up in his usual black Infiniti he had been seen in in our past reports, ready to sell them two golden retriever puppies.
The SPCALA officers boxed Gonzalez in, and Captain Cesar Perea began questioning him once he was out of the car.
"Gustavo, why don't you come talk to me for a minute?" Perea said, as his partner seizes the two puppies from Gonzalez's vehicle. "I believe that these puppies are part of the same puppy that you sold last week, and the one from last week has parvo and is now dead."
"I go through a lot of work to not sell sick dogs," Gonzalez replied.
"But unfortunately, you do sell sick dogs," Perea said.
"It does happen sometimes, yes sir," Gonzalez replies. "When it's the runt, one of them can easily get sick, not with me, but with the person taking care of it."
"The problem is sometimes people get their dogs home and they're already sick," Perea said.
Gonzalez proceeded to say be buys most of his dogs online, and even gets some of them from as far away as the Ukraine. He admitted he does all of the puppies shots and immunizations himself.
Perea questioned him about being in Mexico days before he started selling a batch of sick golden retriever puppies.
"So you weren't in Mexico picking up dogs?" he asked.
"No, I went to Mexico to get my wisdom tooth out," Gonzalez replied.
Perea then took Gonzalez's paperwork, and promised a full investigation of his actions.
"We know who you are, we know what you've been doing, we know your MO," he said.
At that point, FOX 11 moved in to confront Gonzalez for the 4th time. He pulled out a cell phone, and filmed us as he walked around to his car, and drove away.
The two puppies SPCALA seized during the sting were taken to VCA Los Angeles where they received medical care. They tested negative for parvo.
Just days later, Gonzalez asked for a hearing with a judge to try to get the dogs back. He lost the hearing, and the puppies stayed in protective custody.
After the sting operation, Gonzalez brazenly continued to post his online ads throughout the fall, at least one of them used the fake name Josh.
FOX 11 has learned he is now renting out a house in Downey to sell puppies out of, and it's there where he's alleged victimized even more families in recent weeks.
"He's a true scam artist, he knows his business, he knows what to say," said Kerry Grover.
Grover and her husband Michael told FOX 11 in late September, they responded to one of Gonzalez's Craigslist ads and met him at the Downey house to buy a puppy.
They ended up purchasing a golden retriever they named Raglan for $750. In a photo of the Grover's holding Raglan right after the sale, Gonzalez can be seen in the background as he speaks to another family.
"We got her on a Saturday, and by Monday I knew something was wrong," Grover said.
Raglan was vomiting, and had diahrrea. After a trip to the vet, Raglan was diagnosed with parvo, and after $3,500 spent trying to save her life, the Grover's had to make the agonizing decision to put her down.
"Kind of your final goodbye, just letting her know we loved her and we tried, we wanted the best for her, we wanted her to be our dog forever," Grover said.
Thousand Oaks resident Bruce Hamilton knows the pain.
In early October, he also went to Gonzalez's house, and bought a golden retriever puppy named Stella.
"The dog immediately had diarrhea the second it was in my car, and he brought out a puppy pad to make sure it was on the seat, so he knew what was going to happen," Hamilton said.
Sure enough, Hamilton says by the next day, Stella wasn't eating or drinking.
"She pretty well collapsed, I thought, I have to get this dog to a vet," Hamilton said.
Stella's tests came back extremely positive for parvo, and the vet determined she was only five or six weeks old, far too young to be sold legally.
Just four days after she was sold, Stella vomited one final time, and stopped breathing while Hamilton's son was holding her.
"He said, Dad, I've got some bad news for you, I said what, he said Stella died last night," Hamilton said.
"I just stopped, tears flowed, I'm sorry, a man's not supposed to cry, but bang it was the news, it was just so sudden."
SPCALA President Madeline Bernstein tells FOX 11 their investigation of Gonzalez is still in progress, and they continue to interview new victims coming forward in an effort to make their case as strong as possible.
They've interviewed 10 victims so far, with many planned, and once the case is complete, it will be referred to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office to be considered for criminal prosecution.
"It would be inappropriate for me at this time to comment on anything regarding the actual case,however it is an ongoing investigation and if there are more victims out there, we want to hear from you, and we will continue to work this until there are no more victims," she said.
As for the victims who have already come forward to FOX 11, many of which have been interviewed by SPCALA, they want justice.
Justice for Julie, Chance, Leila, Stella, and for Raglan, all dead within days of being sold by Gustavo Gonzalez.
"It's sad to think we're now a community, we're a community of victims of this guy," Grover said.
"I hope he gets jailed," Hamilton said. "And if he gets jailed, that he is put in with other prisoners who are as big of dog lovers as I am, he's gonna have a miserable life, just like he gave to the dogs he sold."
SPCALA believes there are more victims of Gonzalez out there, and they are asking for any additional victims to come forward and contact them by filling out a complaint at spcala.com/fox11 or by calling them at 877-812-4241.