VISTA, Calif. -- A man has pleaded guilty to stealing his ex-wife’s service dog from her Vista home in 2014, bringing a controversial custody battle to a close.
Pablo Cortez, a Marine, pled guilty Tuesday in San Diego County Superior Court to a single count of misdemeanor petty theft. Both sides agreed to drop two previous felony charges. Cortez was sentenced to five days of community service and $1,500 restitution payment to his ex-wife Alexandra Melnick.
Kai, a German shepherd, went missing from Melnick’s Vista home around Thanksgiving 2014.
Melnick, also a Marine who served in Afghanistan, launched a massive search for Kai, claiming he was a registered service dog that helped her cope with post-traumatic stress disorder. Melnick created a "Bring Kai Home" Facebook page, went on TV and handed out thousands of fliers with Kai's picture, hoping for his return.
Kai was found nine months later in Texas with Melnick’s ex-father-in-law. Melnick claimed she had no idea during that time that Kai was in Texas.
However, Cortez’s attorney said the couple paid $700 for the German shepherd and shared a document written by the couple's former landlord stating he gave them permission to move the puppy in.
"It was a bad divorce," Cortez’s attorney Alex Ozols told 10News back in February. "It was a divorce that went wrong. She wanted custody of this dog. He had the dog and she would do anything she could to get the dog back, which means also not telling people about the background of the dog."
Melnick, however, countered that although she and Cortez were once a couple, Kai was always hers. She claims she alone paid for him, and after her divorce, Kai stayed with her.
Melnick believes Cortez took Kai to his father's home in Texas during his most recent deployment. Cortez is now stationed at Camp Pendleton.