Man balks at sentence for dognapping

Courtesy photoHolly, an emotional support dog, was allegedly stolen from her owner and held for ransom. A Lynn man, Gilbert Mendoza, is charged with stealing the dog. 

BEVERLY — A Lynn man who allegedly stole a disabled Beverly woman's service dog, then attempted to extort money and sexual favors from her in exchange for returning it, has rejected a judge's offer of 18 months in jail if he pleads guilty. 

Gilbert Mendoza, 28, who has served time in prison in California and is currently wanted by Pennsylvania authorities for a probation violation, has been in custody since his arrest last fall in the larceny of Holly, a black and white emotional support dog. 

The dog belonged to a disabled woman in her 50s who lives on Apple Road. 

The woman told police that shortly after Holly disappeared in November, she began receiving text messages from Mendoza, warning her, "Let your money do the talking," and threatening, "If you don't pay me, I suggest you adopt another dog," prosecutor Erin McAndrews told a Salem District Court judge on Monday. 

Then, in graphic terms, he allegedly sent texts demanding that the woman also engage in sexual acts with him, the prosecutor said. McAndrews told the judge that investigators had verified that the texts came from an account in Mendoza's name. 

The woman posted photos of Holly on a Facebook page, the "Dog Missing/Pet Lost and Found Alert Group" after the dog went missing. 

Police then received information about a man seen walking a dog that looked like Holly in Lynn. 

Mendoza was subsequently arrested, and the dog was returned to the woman.

Holly had been separated from her owner for about two weeks.  

McAdams read a victim impact statement from the woman. 

"When Holly was gone, I cried all day and all night," the woman wrote. 

And Holly has been affected by the incident, the woman wrote, saying the dog was exposed to second-hand smoke while with Mendoza, and now gets scared whenever she makes toast. More concerning, Holly now sometimes pulls away when she goes to pet her, the woman wrote. 

Mendoza's lawyer, Heidi Shore, said her client has had time to reflect since his arrest, as well as use his time in custody wisely — he obtained a general equivalency diploma and took a class on alternatives to violence. 

Shore asked the judge to impose a sentence with six months in custody and 18 months of additional but suspended jail time. 

But Judge Emily Karstetter proposed a sentence that would require Mendoza to serve 18 months of a 2 1/2 year jail term for larceny. 

Mendoza appeared confused. Then after Shore explained the sentence to him, he initially chose to accept the judge's sentence. 

"There's nothing I could really do in this case," he told the judge. 

But when Karstetter asked him if what the prosecutor said about the case is true, Mendoza again hesitated, saying he wanted the deal but did not want to admit to the elements of larceny. 

"If you're not going to admit to the facts, I'm not going to take the plea," Karstetter told him. 

After some further discussion, Mendoza returned to the courtroom. Again, the judge asked him if the facts were true. 

He again hesitated. "I kind of want to clear my name and give my side of the story," Mendoza told the judge. 

"Oh, well, then we'll have a trial," the judge responded. 

A date for the trial is expected to be scheduled on Tuesday, according to Carrie Kimball, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office. 

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.