Whitney Walker and her fiancee, Sterling Jones, knew the odds of finding their three missing pit bulls that were stolen by a bogus dog trainer were against them. The couple rolled the dice by paying a private investigator, which turned out to be the winning ticket.
After about two weeks of extensive work private Investigator Patty Richardson, of Private Eyes, Inc., of Greenville, found the missing dogs and returned them to the couple Wednesday.
"We're so happy," Walker said. "Our family is together again. Thanks to all for the help and support from caring dog lovers everywhere.
Walker, who lives in South Carolina, had spent countless hour in Edgecombe County and at her home searching for her dogs. While they are back at home, she pledged to continue her fight until the suspect (James Whitten) is brought to justice.
The Sheriff's Department has warrants against Whitten, 46, last known address, 4147 N.C. Highway 97 East, for two counts of obtaining property by false pretense and two counts of larceny of a dog. Whitten is also wanted in two other states for the same violations.
Whitten's sister, Sandra Lee Bryan, 45, who lived at the residence, was charged with obstructing justice by giving false information to the Edgecombe County Sheriff’s Department.
Whitten allegedly sold the couple's dogs to a man in Washington. A lead led Richardson to the man's house where one of the dogs was found. The investigation continued and turned up that the man had sold one of the dogs to a Carteret County family and the other one to a Craven County family.
"When we picked up, "Nina" in Carteret County, she was in excellent condition," Richardson said. "The family had taken good care of her.
"When we picked her up, the little girl was balling. She didn't want to let her go. That was so sad. The families who the dogs were sold to are victims, also."
Whitten operated an elaborate scam through a website that solicited business from dog owners who were searching for their canines to be trained. He also used Craiglist to advertise the scam.
The suspect set up shop at a trailer he was renting on Highway 97 East between the Lawrence Community and Leggett. The dog owners paid Whitten up front and provided food, collars and crates for the canines.
After a few days had passed, the dog owners lost all contact with the suspect — and their dogs.
Walker said she paid Whitten $2,500. Frustrated by the loss of her dogs more than the money that was scammed from her, Whitten hired Private Eyes, Inc.
Richardson took over the case and it immediately became personal to her because, about two years ago, a dog was taken from her. She said stealing dogs has become a huge business. Richardson said she will do her part to bring those who steal dogs to justice.
She signed on to help another Whitten victim (Donald Trowell) who recently came forward that he, too, had been scammed.
"I will continue to be very involved in this case," Walker said. "There are still others like me who haven't found their babies yet and they deserve a happy ending. After getting mine back in the condition I did, I"m now more sure than ever that those still missing are in danger and need to be brought home to their families now.
Trowell, from Charleston, S.C. found the scam business on Craiglist. He brought two German Shepherds to Whitten's home for training on May 25. Trowell discovered that he had been scammed when he found recent information that Whitten was wanted. Trowell spent Wednesday in Washington hoping to find his dogs.
"My kids are attached to them," he said. "Now, I have to go back home and tell them someone stole their dogs. I don't care where they are at, I want them brought back to North Carolina. It's not about the money. I want justice for my kids."