AG files suit against puppy mill owners
After consumers complained they were sold diseased puppies that were misrepresented as being healthy, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller filed a civil suit against the owners of a Harrison County puppy mill that was the focus of a sales-tax enforcement action earlier this year.
The suit, filed Nov. 24 in Harrison Circuit Court, alleges the owners of a commercial dog-breeding operation knowingly and intentionally violated Indiana’s Deceptive Consumer Sales Act by selling puppies to four consumers with the misrepresentation that the dogs were healthy and current on their shots and had been de-wormed. Instead, the suit alleges, the dogs were ill, one puppy died and the consumers incurred veterinary bills.
Virginia Garwood, 64, and her daughter, Kristen Garwood, 27, operate Breezy Valley Dairy Farm, in the 8600 block of Valley City-Mauckport Road near Mauckport. In June, the state seized 244 dogs from their property after they allegedly failed to pay more than $132,400 in sales taxes as part of a puppy mill business they operated from the elder Garwood woman’s home. Also in June, Harrison Circuit Court Judge H. Lloyd (Tad) Whitis ruled that the Garwoods could not buy or sell dogs until they paid the back taxes as well as penalties, interest, collection fees and $3,000 in attorney fees.
Now, the Attorney General’s office is seeking restitution totaling $750 for four victims ‘ Jennifer R. Carnes, Donald R. Hall, Angela Nicole Hines and Jennifer M. Huston ‘ who lodged complaints and a permanent injunction from the court to prevent the defendants from misrepresenting the condition or quality of animals they sell. The suit also seeks civil penalties totaling $22,000.
All four complaints by the victims took place before the raid at the Garwood farm, with the earliest being by Huston in May 2008 and the latest by Hines in January 2009.
Carnes’ complaint alleges a Yorkshire terrier pup she purchased for $350 in August 2008 died three weeks later from acute liver failure.
The latest civil action is a follow-up to earlier criminal charges the Attorney General’s office filed against the Garwoods for sales-tax evasion. The charges allege that, since 2004, the Garwoods sold hundreds of puppies without collecting, recording or remitting Indiana sales tax, preserving tax records, reporting earnings or holding a retail merchant license. Their cases on the six Class D felony charges and two misdemeanor charges are scheduled for trial May 18 in Marion County Criminal Superior Court 24 in Indianapolis. In sales-tax-evasion cases, the Attorney General has jurisdiction to file criminal charges.
‘We support small business, but when individuals are selling thousands of dollars of merchandise, in this case dogs, without collecting sales tax, it cannot be considered legitimate commerce. When they assert to consumers the animals sold are healthy when, in fact, they are diseased, that’s a deceptive consumer sale,’ Zoeller said. ‘The way this puppy mill allegedly operated was not fair to consumers, and it certainly was not fair to other retail merchants who play by the rules and collect sales tax.’
The civil tax case and criminal case are separate from the recently-filed consumer case and would not necessarily conclude at the same time.
The Attorney General’s enforcement action against the puppy mill operators was brought under current statute. A new state law to combat illegal practices in puppy mills, passed by the Indiana General Assembly last April, will be fully enacted Jan. 1, 2010.
The new law, House Enrolled Act 1468, requires commercial dog breeding operations to register with the state, and it authorizes the Attorney General’s office to take civil actions against those that fail to register. It increases the penalties for animal cruelty that could be enforced by prosecutors and also requires that caged dogs be allowed out for exercise.