The man arrested in connection with the theft of a champion French bulldog named “El Che” and 15 puppies appeared in court on Sunday, where a judge set his bond at $14,500.
Vigil “Shaggy” Birch, 29, who appeared via closed-circuit television wearing an orange inmate outfit , was arrested and charged Saturday with 16 counts of grand theft and 16 counts of dealing in stolen property after the dogs went missing New Year’s Eve from a Miami breeder’s home.
“El Che” and the month-old puppies were returned safely to their owner, Marcelo Cicuta.
In court, Birch’s attorney complained to the judge about the multiprel charges his client faces. Matthew Meyers asked a judge on Sunday to treat the incident as one crime and not set bond on each of Birch's counts.
Meyers said charging Birch for each puppy stolen would be “akin to charging possession of a firearm by a convicted felon for each ammo.”
Meyers said his client is cooperating with the police department. “All of the dogs have been returned to the rightful owner happy and healthy,” he said.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Spencer Eig agreed, but raised the standard bond slightly after an attorney for the state pointed out the estimated value of the dogs.
According to Birch’s arrest report the 15 puppies were valued at $30,000 and “El Che” at $50,000, though Cicuta said that figure was not accurate. He declined to otherwise provide the value of his dogs.
Cicuta, known as Marcelo Tuunrat in breeding circles, could not be reached Sunday for comment, but he told the Herald Saturday the dogs are fine.
“I have the dogs back. Everything is good,” Cicuta said. “I want to say thank you to the Miami police and the Broward policemen.”
Meanwhile the investigation continued Sunday said Miami police spokeswoman Kenia Reyes, adding they were still looking for an accomplice to the burglary.
According to the police report, Birch told investigators that he and another man who broke into the home, knew Cicuta from the dog breeding world.
After the theft and the media attention it received, police were led to a North Lauderdale location through a tip and eight of the puppies were found. Another tip led them to Birch.
Birch had dropped the rest of the puppies and “El Che” at another location where they were eventually recovered.
State records indicate in 2010 Birch pleaded guilty to third-degree grand theft of a vehicle and served 18 months on probation.
In a Sunday afternoon post on the “Bring Home ‘Che’ and Puppies” Facebook page, which was created after news broke of the dogs’ disappearance, the page administrator posted a message from Cicuta.
“Thank you to God for everything, to you, and to all the people who helped in getting us to this ending, as this must never happen again with anyone,” he said. “These delinquents must pay with a lot of time in prison for what they have done. Thank you all for the love and support, without which we probably wouldn't have had such a miraculous ending to this story.”
Cicuta, returned home New Year’s Eve, to find “El Che” and the puppies missing and the puppies mother left behind.