For more than 20 years, a line of German shepherds named Gunther has been presented in news stories as the wealthy beneficiaries of a German countess.
The story appears to be a ruse created by Maurizio Mian, the scion of an Italian pharmaceutical company, who has used the tale of the globe-trotting canine to promote real estate sales and other projects.
The Associated Press reported last week that a dog, Gunther VI, was selling a Miami mansion that it had purchased from Madonna for $7.5 million in 2000 for $31.75 million. The story cited claims from Gunther's "handler" that the dog was from a long line of dogs bequeathed the fortune of a German countess.
While the mansion is in fact owned and being sold by the Gunther Corp., according to Miami-Dade County property records, the dog's role appears to be little more than a joke that's carried on for decades.
And there is no evidence of a German countess.
The AP reported on the story after receiving a press release from publicists representing the real estate agents who had the listing.
"The AP published a story that did not meet our standards and should not have been published. We did not do our due diligence in the reporting process. We have corrected the story, and we apologize," AP spokeswoman Lauren Easton said in a statement.
Mian told an Italian newspaper in 1995 that the countess "was just an invention to publicize the philosophy" of his foundation. Mian at other points has claimed his confessions about the countess are the real hoax and the dog stories are, in fact real.
Mian's own money appears to have come from his family's Italian pharmaceutical business. Istituto Gentili, which developed a treatment for the bone-weakening disease osteoporosis with the U.S. pharmaceutical giant Merck, was purchased by Merck in 1997.
An Italian cellphone number listed for Mian was not answered Tuesday.
Responding to questions from the AP Tuesday about the veracity of the story, Monica Tirado, director of the Gunther Group, said that Carla Riccitelli, who described herself to the AP as Gunther's handler, is Mian's "ex-partner."
Tirado said that the company couldn't answer further questions, including about the story of the German countess, because "there is an exclusive contract with a Netflix production." A request for comment with Netflix to get details about any production was not returned.
This is just the latest in a string of tales about Gunther told by Mian.
In 1999, The Miami Herald reported that Gunther IV was trying to purchase a mansion from actor Sylvester Stallone. The next day, the Herald reported that it was just a publicity stunt.
"If you want to write it's a joke, you can write that," Mian told the Herald. "I won't do anything."
In Mian's tale of the dogs, the Gunthers are supposedly supported by a multi-million dollar trust set up by German countess Karlotta Liebenstein when she died in 1992 to care for her dog, Gunther III, and his progeny. The AP has found no evidence that Liebenstein existed.