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.
"She loves the little dog," said attorney Homero Canales, who represents the mayor and her twin sister, who was also charged. "She told me that if she were a single woman, she would not care if she went to jail for the rest of her life before she would give the dog back."
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.
Canales, who is keeping the dog at his office, said his client "will not give the dog back unless there is a legitimate court order that says she has to."
"The taking of the dog was to save it from certain death," Canales said. "It was going to die. They had left the dog with her to take care of it. She took it to the doctor. She decided if she gave it back it would die."
Convictions on the felonies would cost Saenz-Lopez her office, City Manager Albert Uresti said.
She could lose it sooner; a recall effort is under way.