GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. — Monica Wong walked into the Gwinnett County Court Tuesday expecting to resolve 60 charges related to cruelty to animals with a nolo plea to just one. Nolo is used when a defendant accepts the consequences but doesn't admit guilt.
Under the agreement approved by the solicitor’s office, her punishment would have been 12 months probation, a $1,000 fine and community service.
However, State Court Judge Emily Brantley immediately questioned the deal– reviewing photos of the conditions behind the allegations of neglect and hoarding.
“When a person is charged with 60 separate counts of animal cruelty, that’s a serious crime,” said Claudine Wilkins, an animal law expert and attorney.
Wilkins has closely followed the case but had no idea about Tuesday’s plea hearing until a flurry of social media posts went out hours beforehand. The posts urged people to call the judge and solicitor’s office. It’s unclear how many people responded, but Wilkins said she was at least one person to make those calls.
“Nobody seemed to know and a lot of the people that should have been there or subpoenaed were not notified. So there should be more transparency,” Wilkins said.
11Alive Investigates has followed Wong’s breeding business for more than four years after a customer in California claimed she was sold a very sick puppy. We have since talked with nearly a dozen customers upset with either the health of their puppies or the conditions found when picking them up.
Wong’s business has moved from her house in Suwanee to an old Bruster’s ice cream store. But the charges focus solely on the conditions inside her last shop in Lawrenceville. There, inspectors said they found 81 dogs, many stacked in crates, and an overwhelming odor of urine and feces.
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The faces and conditions inside dog breeding facilities ran by Monica Wong
Wong’s attorney told the judge those things wouldn’t be a problem anymore.
“For two years she’s been out of the business. She’s not breeding. She’s not buying and selling dogs anymore and she works in the financial services industry in Memphis, Tennessee,” Kip Shepherd said.
But for Judge Brantley, it wasn’t enough.
“They feel love, they feel pain, they feel fear. They feel neglect,” Judge Brantley explained to Wong. “Those conditions were horrible. I’m not accepting this plea.”
Judge Brantley set the case for trial on August 21, unless both sides can return with a plea deal that she finds acceptable. She told the prosecutor it must include a guilty plea.
The Georgia Department of Agriculture also ordered Wong to pay $8,000 in fines. 11Alive reached out to the department to see if those fines have been paid but received no response.