A California man who scammed owners of lost pets out of thousands of dollars is now facing a lot of years behind bars.
William Arnold Muniz was sentenced today in Washoe District Court to a minimum of 5 years in prison today.
We've seen a variety of scams over the years. This one seems unusually cruel - and that particular point was made in court.
It is also reflected - it seems clear - in the sentence that he received.
Said victim Virginia Anderson: "You hurt us in a way - you have no idea."
Anderson flew half-way across the country to look William Muniz in the eye today and describe the damage he has caused.
The Andersons live in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Three years ago, one of their dogs, 4-year-old Annie, disappeared.
"Annie was amazing. She was the kind of dog - even if you weren't comfortable with large dogs - you were drawn to her. She was loved from the word go," Anderson says.
The family took out an ad in the local paper.
It's not known how Muniz saw that ad, but it's likely he used one of the several lost pet websites on the internet. Missing pet notices are gathered here, many are posted by the distraught owners, pleading for help in finding a beloved pet.
Often filled with detail about the pet's personality and appearance, they are ready-made for a scam artist.
Muniz apparently used them to weave a believable story, calling the Andersons from Reno, saying he had found their dog - injured - on a cross-country trip. Unable to find anyone to leave her with, he had brought her to Reno, paid sizeable vet bills and was now reluctant to part with her.
Eventually $1,300 dollars was wired to Muniz here in Reno. He picked it up at the Silver Legacy, and told the Andersons their dog was on a flight to Omaha.
An ecstatic family gathered at the airport and waited in vain. "It was a sinking feeling. You just couldn't believe someone would have the capacity to do this to you," Anderson says.
Deputy Attorney General Tracey Brierly says dozens of other victims went through the same emotional roller coaster. "One victim wrote, I know I'm not going to get my money back. I just wish he could know he broke my heart," she says.
Speaking barely above a whisper, Muniz told the court he had lost a pet when he was young and realized the pain he had caused. He said he ran the scam to feed a gambling habit.
His attorney asked that any sentences run concurrent with a federal prison sentence he has just begun serving. The judge rejected that argument and gave Muniz a minimum of 5 years, a maximum of 12 and a half.
And he'll start serving the Nevada sentences after he finishes the federal term.
Judge James Hardesty was clearly unmoved by the apology or the plea to have the federal and state sentences run concurrently. The crimes, he said, may have followed a common script . . . but each left a victim. He said Muniz owed each restitution and time behind bars.
The attorney general's office pursued this case with some determination. The federal case really piggybacked on theirs. It's a real victory for the AG's office.
You can understand how an upset pet owner could be an easy mark.
Especially when the scam artist has a lot to work with. If you look at these ads, people are often pouring their hearts out, promising big rewards and giving a lot of detail that someone could use to tell a convincing story.
The Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection says people with lost pets or property should use a more general description in any ads.
That lets you question them about the detail. And you should offer to pay the veterinarian or airline directly - and be suspicious if the caller objects.