PORT RICHEY — Neighbors said they saw a figure Wednesday night in the window at the pink stucco house. Someone who shouldn't be there. They called Pasco sheriff's deputies, then the house's owner. Before a swift exit, the burglar left the front door slightly ajar — exposing an illicit world that would unnerve neighbors and lead to the homeowner's arrest.
Three deputies arrived and went through the door at 7025 Cherry Laurel Drive in Jasmine Lakes, hoping to catch the burglar. No dice. Instead, a report states, deputies found themselves standing in a dogfighting operation.
Three pit bull terriers were on the property: one in a cage, two behind the house, scarred and malnourished, according to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office report. The report describes a treadmill inside fitted with chains to train the dogs, and parts of an IV drip "for the dogs when they are bleeding heavily."
Two other rooms in the house were festooned with marijuana plants that grew from floor to ceiling, the report said. Deputies hauled 85 plants from the house.
Then, the home's owner Leudis Miguel Mendoza, 36, drove up to the house. He told deputies that he was operating the grow house, the report states, but denied involvement in dogfighting, accounting for the scars by telling deputies the dogs "play rough."
Mendoza was arrested on charges of cultivating and trafficking marijuana as well as cruelty to animals. He remained in Land O'Lakes jail Thursday in lieu of $20,000 bail.
He declined an interview request from the Tampa Bay Times.
No one was at the Cherry Laurel Drive home Thursday afternoon. The SUV neighbors said Mendoza arrived in Wednesday night was still parked crooked in the driveway.
Mendoza's arrest record lists his address as 7130 Nova Scotia Drive, about 2 miles away in the Embassy Hills neighborhood. Property records show that home is owned by a leasing company. Mendoza is listed as the owner of the home where the dogs and pot were found.
Mendoza, originally from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, has no other arrests on record in Florida.
Investigators are not sure yet whether Mendoza was involved in a larger dogfighting ring, said sheriff's spokesman Doug Tobin.
Deputies have not arrested any burglary suspect, Tobin said, though there were signs of forced entry. It was unclear whether detectives are still looking for a burglary suspect because, Tobin said, that part of the case is still open for investigation.
Pasco Animal Services took custody of the three dogs.
Alex Orlando can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.