A gang of fraudsters operating a puppy-dealing ring worth £2.5m have been jailed and disqualified from keeping dogs for life.
The gang is estimated to have made at least £2.5m selling sick and dying puppies to unsuspected members of the public across the South East.
It comes following a three-year investigation by the RSPCA into puppy dealing in London and Berkshire, after the animal welfare charity received complaints from members of the public who had bought puppies which had fallen ill and in some cased died.
The gang were most active between 2014 and 2016 – before being raided by police and RSPCA investigators – when it is estimated they were making around £800,000 a year during this time.
RSPCA Officers estimated that the network of dealers were selling puppies for an average of £500 each – making at least £2,548,500 by selling 5,097 puppies during a five-year period, but it is suspected there were many more.
Members of the gang, Simon O’Donnell, Margaret McDonagh, Edward Stokes, Thomas Stokes, Thomas O’Donnell and Mary McDonagh appeared at Isleworth Crown Court yesterday (Tuesday 22 May) to be sentenced for their part in operating a network of puppy sellers across London.
A vet who conspired with the gang, falsifying vaccination cards to help them sell the pups, is also due to be sentenced having previously been found guilty by a jury of conspiracy to commit fraud.
During warrants at four addresses in 2016, a total of 46 dogs were found being kept in plastic sheds, outbuildings and garages, or running loose in gardens and yards.
RSPCA inspector Kirsty Withnall who left the investigation to uncover their plot, said: “This was a complex and sophisticated network of organized fraud and cruelty to dogs. This was a complicated and multi-faceted, high volume conspiracy whereby the gang has misrepresented commercial, puppy-farmed dogs imported from abroad as family-bred pets to con members of the public out of money.
“Puppies were illegally imported from southern Ireland before being transported to the defendants’ homes where they were kept in plastic sheds, outbuildings and garages. They were advertised online and sold for between £350 and £650 each. “
A total of 83 victims came forward to speak to police, all of who had bought puppies from the gang at different addresses – 25 puppies sadly died or were put to sleep due to severe health problems.
Buyers have had to cover expensive veterinary bills or, tragically lost their pet as a result of poor breeding, inappropriate transport and inadequate care,” Inspector Withnall added.
All of the dogs that were seized as part of the investigations went into foster homes and were later signed over to the RSPCA to be rehomed.