Theft of French bulldog exposed ‘disturbing’ puppy trafficking ring, Orange sheriff says

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The six-month investigation into the armed theft of a French bulldog in west Orange County led deputies to a much larger ring of puppy trafficking and animal cruelty, Sheriff John Mina said at a press conference Friday.

Three men have been arrested in the scheme, which Mina said involved stealing expensive dogs to resell or breed, keeping the animals in “deplorable conditions” and performing unsanctioned medical procedures on them.

The investigation began with a single dog theft: French bulldog Bugsy was taken at gunpoint March 25 from his owner Johnny Matos, when Matos and Bugsy were out for a walk near Hiawassee Road.

“In their quest to find Busgy, [detectives] stumbled into really chilling activities involving these dog trafficking organizations,” Mina said. “... They had no idea it would lead them down this dark and disturbing road.”

Tips in Bugsy’s case first led detectives to Ronnie Baker, 34, who was a suspect in a Manatee County pet store burglary, in which six puppies were stolen, said OCSO Detective Mike Peers.

When Baker was arrested in May on unrelated charges, detectives found him with a different French bulldog puppy that had “fresh wounds” on its back, Peers said. Investigators determined the injury was from a “botched removal” of the dog’s microchip and an attempt to insert a new one.

“She was sloppily and improperly sown back up, and the wound became infected,” Peers said. Investigators later determined that Baker had brought that dog to what Mina called an “underground puppy chop shop,” run by Bobby Rivera, known as “Dogman.”

Peers said they found medical instruments and bloody rags at Rivera’s home, evidence he was conducting unlicensed surgeries on dogs despite not being a veterinarian, as well as a dead dog and eight dogs living in poor conditions.

However, Bugsy wasn’t found at Rivera’s home.

Working with a contact of Baker’s, who officials did not arrest or publicly identify, Peers was able to track down Bugsy at another home. He said Bugsy was not injured and his microchip was never removed.

“It’s great to have him home,” Matos said Friday, tearing up. “We want to get him back to, just being Bugsy. ... Dogs are just so precious.”

Peers said detectives also learned Baker and his relative, 22-year-old Quantavious Williams, were suspected of burglarizing a Largo pet store, stealing 12 puppies. They also believe the men are responsible for the initial armed robbery of Matos, Peers said.

Peers said prosecutors have filed charges against Baker and Williams of robbery with a firearm, grand theft and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He said both are currently in jail in different counties for other charges.

Rivera is facing a charge of aggravated animal cruelty and was found guilty of 11 counts of treating animals in a neglectful manner, court records show.