04/09/09 — Former kennel owner will face 12 charges

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Former kennel owner will face 12 charges

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on April 9, 2009 1:46 PM

A Mount Olive woman who allegedly ran a "puppy mill" in Wayne County now faces 12 misdemeanor animal cruelty counts.

Billy Strickland, the Goldsboro attorney representing Virginia Dunn Thornton, said he thought the case was over after Mrs. Thornton turned over her dogs as part of a plea agreement.

Animal Control Director Justin Scally said the misdemeanor counts were the result of his office turning over evidence to the district attorney's office.

Tuesday morning, Mrs. Thornton learned there was a warrant for her arrest. She phoned her attorney after learning of the warrant, Strickland said.

The attorney said he took Mrs. Thornton to the Sheriff's Office immediately and had her turn herself in. She was released on a $10,000 unsecured bond, records show.

When reached Wednesday, Mrs. Thornton deferred all comment to her attorney.

"I thought this was resolved by dealing through county attorney Borden Parker," Strickland said. "(We believed) we had satisfied the county in what they wanted, which is closing her business down, them getting about $30,000 to $40,000 worth of dogs, and the county making four people lose their job."

The attorney also noted that North George Street-based Bartlett Milling Co. had lost "thousands in dog food sales a month."

The attorney argues that he believes the Animal Control director still works for the county, not Sheriff Carey Winders, who has sworn Scally in as a deputy. Scally has been attending N.C. basic law enforcement training, authorities have said.

"This young dogcatcher, Scally, he's sworn under the Sheriff's Department, but he really works for the county manager (Lee Smith)," the attorney said.

But Scally said he simply turned over his investigative materials to District Attorney Branny Vickory's office, and they advised him to charge Mrs. Thornton with the misdemeanor counts.

"What I did was turn over the evidence to the district attorney's office, and they're the ones that made recommendations on the charges," Scally said.

Scally said he was not clear on why the office advised 12 misdemeanor counts specifically.

However, the animal control director said he wants to see the case pursued in a criminal court, regardless of specific charges.

"Our thing is that we want to make sure it's prosecuted to its fullest extent, whatever way it may be," Scally said.

The animal control director said he had already played a role in new legislation, introduced by Sen. Don Davis, D-Greene, to create specific "puppy mill" laws in North Carolina. The state currently has no law addressing such alleged facilities directly.

Scally said it is also his intention to continue promoting such laws.

"There's obviously still more work to be done, because there's no law yet," Scally said.