New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs Files Suit Against Alleged Dealer of Sick, Dying Puppies and Supposed Charity
TRENTON – Attorney General Paula T. Dow and the State Division of Consumer Affairs have filed suit in Monmouth County seeking immediate injunctive relief against a pet dealer alleging, among other things, that he repeatedly sold gravely ill puppies, many of which died within days of being sold, and then attempted to portray his business as a charity.
Filed last week, the State's five-count civil complaint charges Allan Levine, of Millstone Township, and his three businesses with violating the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act and the Regulations Governing the Sale of Animals, for unconscionable business practices to include failing to have the pets properly examined by a veterinarian prior to sale, failing to truthfully disclose their health information to the buyers, and refusing to provide refunds or reimburse the consumers' veterinary costs, as required by state law.
The Division has received approximately nine consumer complaints against Levine and his businesses – Al's Special Friends, Allan Levine, Inc., and Van Dam, Inc. – all of which Levine operated out of his residence.
The defendants are also charged with violating New Jersey's Charitable Registration and Investigation Act for misrepresenting the charitable purpose and nature of defendant Allan Levine, Inc., and depositing income to the supposed charity into Levine's own personal bank account, after telling consumers their payments for the animals were charitable "donations."
On August 5, 2011, the Superior Court granted the State's request for a temporary restraining order – prohibiting defendants from acquiring, selling, offering for sale, or transferring any animals; prohibiting defendants from transferring or disposing of any assets except in the ordinary course of business; and preserving all business records.
"By allegedly selling puppies without disclosing serious health conditions that led some of the dogs to die within days of being welcomed into a home, these defendants demonstrated a level of callousness that is simply unconscionable," Attorney General Dow said. "New Jersey's pet regulations exist to protect animals as well as consumers. Anyone who seeks to profit by violating them will be held fully accountable to the law."
The State is seeking restitution for consumers, as well as civil penalties and reimbursement of the State's attorneys' fees and investigative costs, and to have the defendants permanently enjoined from selling animals.
The lawsuit alleges that Levine and his companies sold at least 10 gravely ill or dying puppies to unknowing consumers, without disclosing information about the animals' health as required by law, and then refused to provide refunds or reimburse the consumers' veterinary costs. In each case, the consumers contacted Levine after reading advertisements the defendants placed in the Asbury Park Press. The consumers viewed and purchased the animals at Levine's home.
"The conduct we're alleging – the sale of seriously ill puppies to unwitting consumers with no opportunity for refunds and absolutely no regard for the despair of families who purchased these sick animals – is appalling," said Thomas R. Calcagni, Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. "With this kind of contemptible record, we're not only seeking full restitution for the consumers who were defrauded, we're also looking to stop these defendants from ever selling animals again."
Consumer complaints against the defendants include:
One consumer purchased a Shi Tzu puppy for $535 as a gift to her husband after he was diagnosed with leukemia. Levine provided a health record that did not specify whether the dog had been examined by a veterinarian. Shortly after the purchase, the dog became ill, had trouble standing, and began to lay limp on the ground. Ten days after purchase, the puppy died. Levine allegedly offered a replacement, and the couple chose a West Highland White Terrier. That puppy became ill the same day it was brought home. A veterinarian diagnosed the dog as having intestinal and upper respiratory infections. Within a month of being brought home, the puppy suffered convulsive seizures and, after three days in a veterinary intensive care unit, was euthanized. Levine allegedly refused to pay the veterinary costs.
- Another consumer purchased a Yorkshire Terrier puppy from Levine for $600. A day later the consumer brought the puppy to a veterinary hospital, where a veterinarian diagnosed it with intestinal infections and issued a "certificate of unfitness for sale." The dog was euthanized 10 days after being brought home. Levin allegedly refused to provide a refund or reimbursement of veterinary costs.
- Another consumer purchased two puppies from Levine for $1,000. Levine allegedly provided an incomplete, partially blank health record for the two dogs. The dogs became sick and began vomiting on the drive home from Levine's residence. One puppy died the following day. Over the next two days, the consumer and his family took the remaining puppy to three veterinary treatment centers. The dog was diagnosed with an intestinal infection and a blood disorder, and the diagnosing veterinarian issued a "certificate of unfitness for sale." Levine allegedly did not comply with the family's demand for reimbursement of veterinary costs.
- Another consumer purchased a Bichon puppy from Levine. Three days after the purchase, the puppy became ill. The consumer brought the dog to an animal hospital, where it was diagnosed with intestinal and respiratory infections, and a veterinarian issued a "certificate of unfitness for sale." Levine allegedly did not comply with the consumer's demand for reimbursement of veterinary costs.
The State's lawsuit further alleges that, not long after the Division began its investigation into Levine's business practices, Levine altered his business model by casting his company, Alan Levine, Inc., as a charitable organization and characterizing payments for animals as charitable "donations". Unlike legitimate charities, however, the State alleges the defendants freely commingled the "donations" with Levine's own assets in his personal bank account and repeatedly failed to produce to the Division any of the financial records required of charities under state law.
"No matter what defendant Levine wants to call his companies – the conduct alleged in our complaint is nothing less than fraud," said Calcagni.
Consumer rights under New Jersey's Pet Regulations:
Pet dealers must have each animal examined by a licensed veterinarian prior to sale. Any animal examined more than 14 days prior to purchase must be reexamined within 72 hours of delivery, to disclose the animal's condition.
- Pet dealers must provide a complete history and health certificate for each animal sold, including the dates on which the animal was examined by a licensed veterinarian, any treatment given, and any vaccinations.
- Consumers have certain rights if the pet they purchase turns out to be diseased or ill. Within fourteen days of purchase and delivery, a licensed veterinarian may certify the animal unfit for purchase due to non-congenital conditions. Within six months of purchase, a veterinarian may certify the animal unfit for purchase due to congenital conditions.
- In such cases, the consumer may choose to return the animal and receive a refund for the purchase price and reimbursement of veterinary fees incurred up to receiving the certification that the animal is unfit for purchase; or choose to keep the animal and receive reimbursement for veterinary fees, plus future fees to be incurred while attempting to cure the animal, for an amount not to exceed the purchase price.
- If a pet dies within 14 days of delivery, and the death is not due to an accident or injury sustained during that period, the consumer is entitled to a full refund of the purchase price or, in exchange, an animal of the consumer's choice of equivalent value, plus reimbursement of veterinary fees incurred prior to the animal's death.
- Much more information can be found in "Purchasing a Pet," a Consumer Brief created by the Division of Consumer Affairs: .
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file a complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website, www.NJConsumerAffairs.com, or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.
Deputy Attorney General Jah-Juin Ho, of the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section, is representing the State in this action. Investigator Juan Odio in the Office of Consumer Protection conducted the investigation.