Eight months after being sentenced, Denise Gottlieb remains a fugitive from justice in Benewah County.
Gottlieb fled the state after entering a conditional guilty plea and receiving a 180-day jail sentence in Benewah County December 14. After losing appeals to modify the sentence – filed through her attorney while she was a fugitive – she remains at large, and her whereabouts are unknown.
The Gottlieb case began in 2018 during a conflict with neighbors along Johns Creek Road near Emida. She operated a dog breeding business in the area, which operated under several names over time including “Sweet Wheatens,” “Freedom Farmz” and “Celebrity Pups.”
Neighbors on Johns Creek Road complained to county entities about Gottlieb’s operation, saying the operation was a regular nuisance.
The dispute escalated over time, and Gottlieb and her employees retaliated with harassing behavior. Allegations included threatening encounters, harassing signs and the introduction of increasingly numerous and disruptive livestock on property bordering their neighbors’ land.
Tensions came to a head May 22, 2018 when Gottlieb nearly struck the vehicle of neighbor Bobbi Slaton, who had made complaints against her. Ms. Slaton was parked in the driveway of neighbor Paul Maughan, and was talking to Mr. Maughan through a passenger window when Gottleib allegedly swerved as though to strike the vehicle, then corrected back into her lane and sped away.
Gottleib was arrested and charged with felony assault and reckless driving. She entered an “Allan Plea” to reckless driving Dec. 14, in which she denied wrongdoing but admitted the state had sufficient evidence to convict her. The assault charge was dismissed as part of a plea agreement.
Judge Scott Wayman exceeded the recommended sentence in Gottlieb’s case, sentencing her to serve 180 days in jail, which were to start Dec. 25. He said Gottlieb had displayed a flagrant disrespect for both her neighbors and the legal process throughout the proceeding.
The judge’s insight appeared to be confirmed when Gottlieb did not appear for her jail time. Prior to her sentencing, she had received permission to travel to California for a medical treatment. She did not return as ordered, and a bench warrant was issued for her arrest.
Despite being a fugitive in Idaho, Gottlieb continued to battle her sentence in the courts from a distance. According to transcripts from the most recent court appearance – in which Gottlieb’s lawyer appeared telephonically April 19 – she had applied for a modification of her sentence under Criminal Rule 35.
The rule allows convicted persons to correct or reduce a sentence that is either illegal or unduly harsh. The transcript indicated Gottlieb filed medical records under seal as evidence in the case, suggesting the basis for her appeal was on health grounds.
Benewah County Prosecutor Brian Thie, with permission from Judge Wayman, shed more light on those claims. He said Gottlieb and her lawyer had claimed she had special dietary needs, as well as medical needs, that the Benewah County Jail would be unable to fulfill. Mr. Thie said the medical records filed showed no mention of several of the conditions she claimed to have, and she had filed no recent doctor notes that changed that perception.
Further, a signed affidavit from Jail Deputy Tyler Morris confirmed that the jail would be entirely capable of fulfilling all of the stated needs, as it possesses both adequate staff to provide monitoring and access to medical care through the Benewah Community Hospital, located next door to the jail.
Mr. Thie also said it was highly irregular to file a motion to modify a jail sentence while the defendant is on the run from that same sentence.
“Her motion is unfair,” the prosecutor said. “She has ignored the court’s order and remains a fugitive, and it is unfair to hear a Rule 35 motion on those circumstances.”
Judge Wayman denied the Rule 35 motion, saying that there were no grounds to change the sentence.
Gottlieb’s current whereabouts are unknown. A bench warrant for her arrest remains in effect; however, in order for it to be enforced she would either need to return to Idaho or be arrested in a state that has an extradition agreement with Idaho.