UPDATED BREAKING NEWS: State officials raid rural Bloomfield puppy mill
State officials raided a rural Bloomfield commercial dog breeder on Wednesday and seized more than 120 puppies and dogs after the Indiana Attorney General's Office filed a jeopardy tax assessment in Greene County Circuit Court.
The attorney general's office contends the dog breeder owes the state more than $311,000 in delinquent sales and income taxes and obtained a court order to cease the business operation.
The animals were recovered by volunteers and now are being cared for at an animal clinic in Bloomington.
Darlene J. Clark, owner of Love My Pets, was ordered to cease from conducting business in the state because the operation did not collect sales tax and operated on a strictly cash-and-carry basis and provided no written receipts to customers showing sales tax due, according to an order filed with Greene Circuit Court on Wednesday by the Indiana Department of State Revenue.
State officials filed a restraining order that prevents Clark from conducting business in the state until the outstanding tax bill is satisfied.
Clark, who lives at 10203 E. Dodson Road, was further ordered to appear in Greene Circuit Court at 11 a.m. Tuesday.
"The defendants' acts of omission have made it prejudicially difficult for the department to track the defendant's business activities for the purposes of assessing and collecting sales," according to court records.
An investigation that began in June by the Indiana Attorney General's Office found that Clark sold dogs and puppies to consumers without charging sales tax or remitting sales tax to the state.
The investigation started when two consumers complained to the Attorney General's Office that they purchased a pug puppy for $500 from Clark who did not charge them sales tax. The puppy was diseased, and though the customers spent $2,986 in veterinary bills, the animal soon died from complications of pneumonia, dog lice and Coccidia, an infection contracted when dogs ingest fecal matter, the investigation found.
The state claims Clark owes $294,293.06 in sales tax from the sale of dogs and puppies that have gone unpaid for approximately nine years, through October 31, 2010. She also owes $17,168.57 in delinquent income tax over five years ending in 2009, records show. The total delinquency is $311,461.63 for 25 separate tax warrants dating back to Dec. 31, 2001.
"We support small business and entrepreneurship; but it is unfair to law-abiding, taxpaying businesspeople when one individual ignores state law and undercuts the competition by failing to collect or remit sales taxes," Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said in a prepared release. "Beyond the significant tax delinquency, consumers had complained to my office about diseased dogs being sold by this facility. By no stretch of the imagination can this cash-and-carry operation be considered legitimate commerce."
By law, a jeopardy tax assessment filed in court is immediately considered a civil judgment against the delinquent taxpayer; and if the taxes cannot be paid immediately, then the state has the legal authority to seize the inventory of the business to satisfy the civil judgment -- the approximate 120 puppies and dogs in her possession.
Officials said the business is not registered with the state.
"State law requires anyone who owns more than 20 sexually intact female dogs for the purposes of breeding to register as a commercial dog breeder with the Indiana State Board of Animal Health," said Gary Haynes, Director of Legal Affairs for BOAH.
Although the Attorney General's Office normally does not have legal jurisdiction to file criminal charges, sales tax and income tax evasion are the exceptions, and the Attorney General can file such charges directly, which is what happened in this case.
Clark has not been charged with any crime while the investigation continues into the delinquent taxes.
The filing of the jeopardy assessment in civil court triggers a legal process where the Attorney General, representing the Department of Revenue, seeks to collect the delinquent taxes.
"It doesn't matter whether the merchandise consists of puppies, flat-screen televisions or tennis rackets: If a retail merchant is selling merchandise and not collecting and remitting sales tax as required by law, then the State of Indiana is authorized to take appropriate legal action to collect on the judgment owed," Attorney General Zoeller stated in a prepared news release.
After the jeopardy assessment was filed in court against Clark, then volunteers from several animal-rescue groups began the process of removing the puppies and dogs from their enclosures in a building on the property.
The dogs were loaded into cages and transported in trailers and animal rescue vans from Bloomfield approximately 35 miles to Bloomington, an operation that took several hours to complete. Because of the possibility the dogs might harbor disease, the volunteers exercised health precautions.
Several of the dogs were in immediate need of medical attention, according to a news release from the State Attorney General's office.
The animals were brought to the Pets Alive Spay/Neuter Clinic, 6522 South Empire Road, in Bloomington, where they underwent veterinary triage and will remain quarantined for several days.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) acted as the lead animal welfare organization in the rescue mission.
Jordan Crump, HSUS spokesperson talking to the Greene County Daily World from the animal shelter in Bloomington, said most of the dogs were located in a mobile home.
"We have about 20 volunteers here that we brought in from other parts of the country. We're doing the transport, the logistics and we're getting supplies here. We're financing pretty much the whole operation as far as supplies and vet care," she said in a telephone interview.
Crump estimated the cost of Wednesday's rescue could exceed $50,000.
She said much of Clark's business was transacted over the Internet through a website that she maintained.
Much of the supplies for the rescued dogs -- which are mostly puppies -- is being provided by PetSmart Charities.
"The dogs will be cared for until they are transported to humane organizations around the region where they will be available for adoption," Crump added.
When responders arrived on the property they found overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. Several breeds of dogs were present including Maltese, ShihTzus, Pugs and Poodles. They were housed in small wire cages and runs inside a dirty mobile home. Some dogs were denied proper veterinary care and socialization as is typical in puppy mills, according to Anne Sterling, Indiana state director for The HSUS.
The Greene County Sheriff's Department assisted in the operation.
Consumers who purchased dogs from the Clark operation who wish to file a consumer complaint can do so by visiting www.indianaconsumer.com or by calling 1-800-382-5516.