updated 12/5/2007 9:11:06 PM ET 2007-12-06T02:11:06

A Puerto Rican judge has charged the owner and two employees of a city contractor with animal cruelty after the company allegedly took pets from a public housing project and hurled them off a bridge.

Julio Diaz, the owner of Animal Control Solutions, and workers Lucas Montano Rivera, 18, and Roberto Rodriguez Ceballo, 28, were each charged with three counts of violations of the U.S. territory’s laws against animal cruelty. Charges were also filed against the company.

The three defendants, who face cruelty charges that carry maximum prison terms of nine years, were released Wednesday evening after each posted $3,000.

“We are going to prove that we are not guilty,” Diaz said as he left the court in suburban San Juan.

About 80 pets taken
The charges involve the October massacre of pets seized by municipal officials and animal-control workers from three housing projects in the town of Barceloneta under city rules prohibiting pets in the projects. Some 80 pets were seized, and only a half-dozen survived the 50-foot fall from the bridge, some with serious injuries. The dogs and cats apparently were drugged before they were killed.

Jose Arzola Mendez, attorney for the two animal-control employees, Montano and Rodriguez, said there was no evidence linking his clients to the pet massacre and said dogs and cats were confiscated by municipal employees of Barceloneta.

A $22.5 million lawsuit against Animal Control Solutions and city officials — including those who helped round up the animals — has been filed on behalf of 16 Barceloneta families whose dogs and cats were seized.

Barceloneta Mayor Sol Luis Fontanes, named as a defendant in the civil suit, has said that Animal Control Solutions, the municipality of Barceloneta and the public housing administration were involved in rounding up pets at the public housing projects. But he said the city’s responsibility ended when Animal Control Solutions drove off with the animals in their vans.

Puerto Rican authorities said last month that they will broaden their investigation after a report by The Associated Press showed that thousands of unwanted cats and dogs may have been slaughtered in the tropical U.S. territory.

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