Animal rights activists got into a shouting match with a defense lawyer outside a Las Vegas courtroom Wednesday, as prosecutors added dozens of new charges against a woman accused of trying to burn down a pet shop filled with puppies.
Gloria Lee, 35, was stoic during an appearance in Las Vegas Justice Court on allegations that on Jan. 27 she and an accomplice tried to set ablaze her Prince and Princess Pet Boutique at 6870 S. Rainbow Road, south of the Las Vegas Beltway.
Lee surrendered her passport at the demand of Justice of the Peace Joe Sciscento, who ordered the defendant held on house arrest pending a bail hearing Friday.
Prosecutor Shanon Clowers filed a new criminal complaint against Lee adding 29 new charges. Lee faces one felony count each of first-degree arson and burglary and two felony counts of conspiracy. She also faces 27 counts of attempted cruelty to animals — one count for each puppy. If Lee is convicted of those 27 counts a judge would then decide if she should be sentenced under felony or gross misdemeanor guidelines. If convicted, she could face dozens of years in prison.
And, Clowers said, an arrest warrant was issued for her alleged accomplice, Kirk Bills.
Clowers asked Sciscento to remand Lee to the Clark County Detention Center and raise her bail to $400,000 bail. She had already posted $40,000 bail.
The prosecutor said Lee had three felony convictions from California, for escape, larceny from a bank and forgery. Clowers noted that Lee was born in Korea and was a flight risk considering her ties to that country and California.
And, in 2008, Lee was charged by county animal control officers with 37 counts for violating county ordinances in caring for the animals in her pet shop, including failure to vaccinate the animals and improper confinement of the animals. The case was later dismissed after Lee corrected the violations.
But Sciscento ordered Lee placed under house arrest to allow defense lawyers Tom Pitaro and Ozzie Fumo until Friday to review the bail motion they had only received Wednesday morning.
A preliminary hearing was set for Feb. 24, where prosecutors must show they have enough evidence to take the case to trial. Clowers also served Lee and her lawyers with court papers indicating the case may be brought before a grand jury prior to the preliminary hearing.
Authorities say surveillance video of the incident shows Lee let Bills into the shop, where he attempted to start a fire using kerosene splashed onto the puppy cages. The blaze was quickly extinguished by a sprinkler system in the store and the puppies survived unharmed.
Bills is facing similar charges in the case, but had not been arrested as of Wednesday evening, jail records show.
While authorities haven’t said what they believe Lee’s motivation for the alleged arson was, federal bankruptcy records show she and her husband have only recently emerged from financial problems.
Federal court records show Lee and her husband, Donald Thompson filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 2007 in an effort to repay their debts. The case was closed in 2011.
Following the hearing, Lee was escorted by court marshals out through a secured elevator after Pitaro said animal rights activists threatened her.
Pitaro told a throng of media, “I would hope the concern that is shown here could be shown for the homeless, the helpless, the hungry.... Instead of yelling and shouting vile comments over this.”
Animal activist Cheryl Prater shouted at Pitaro, “How can you talk about that? These are innocent lives. These are animals. they don’t have a voice. We are their voice… She didn’t try burning homeless people.”
“Will you please shut up,” Pitaro responded, before leaving.
Prior to the hearing, Prater and 14 other activists demonstrated outside the courthouse with signs and dogs, demanding prosecutors pursue felony charges against the duo.
“Whatever the amount of puppies is, I want to see a felony charge for every one of them,” protester Kimberly Tulman said as she held the leash of her dog, Hannah.
The activists represented the group Nevada Political Action for Animals and want people to contact the district attorney’s office and ask for action.
According to president Stacia Newman, the legislative goal is to outlaw selling cats and dogs in pet stores. Newman said they will most likely submit a draft to Clark County commissioners within a month.
“We can’t fathom the mindset that would do something like this,” Tulman said.
Group vice president Kristen Corral didn’t express the same venom some of the activists did toward Lee, and wanted people to remember the dogs are the first priority.
“Hopefully they’ll get adopted into healthy, happy homes,” she said.
Meanwhile, the puppies remain at the Animal Foundation. The shelter has received numerous calls inquiring about adopting the puppies, though that may not be allowed.
County animal control officials are currently trying to determine who legally owns the dogs. The owners could include Lee’s husband, the people who bred the puppies or creditors against the pet business.
District Attorney Steve Wolfson, who said the case involved “unconscionable behaviour” by the defendants, explained nothing will happen with the puppies for at a least a few days because they must be fully vaccinated. As far as whether the public will be allowed to adopt the puppies, Wolfson said, “time will tell what is going to happen.”
Review-Journal editor Brian Haynes contributed to this report. Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe@review journal.com or 702-380-1039.