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Verbatim: Breeder agrees to stop selling dogs in Indiana

Statement issued Tuesday:

INDIANAPOLIS – The owner of a commercial dog-breeding operation where 124 puppies and dogs were seized last week has agreed to no longer breed dogs or sell them in Indiana, Attorney General Greg Zoeller announced today.

The Indiana Attorney General’s Office has reached an agreement with Darlene J. Clark, owner of Love My Pets in rural Bloomfield, where Clark signed a permanent injunction that prohibits her from conducting business in Indiana – including the selling or breeding of dogs and puppies. The permanent injunction was filed today in Greene County Circuit Court and the judge signed it. Additional terms of the settlement are expected to be filed by December 21.

“By entering into such agreements, defendants acknowledge that they sold retail merchandise without collecting sales tax from customers or remitting the tax to the state, as retail merchants are required to do. As delinquent taxpayers, they acknowledge owing unpaid tax, and acknowledge the state had the legal authority to seize their inventory – in this case, puppies – to satisfy the tax liability,” Zoeller said today.

An investigation found Clark owed $294,293.06 in sales tax from the sale of dogs and puppies that had gone unpaid for approximately nine years, through October 31, 2010. She also owed $17,168.57 in delinquent income tax over five years ending in 2009, records show, for a total delinquency of $311,461.63. Also, Clark is neither registered as a retail merchant nor as a commercial dog breeder, both of which are required under Indiana law.

When a jeopardy tax assessment is filed in court by the state, it automatically is considered a civil judgment against the delinquent taxpayer. 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. In the case of Clark’s business Love My Pets, located at 10203 East Dobson Road in rural Bloomfield, the business’ inventory consisted of puppies and dogs – primarily poodles, pugs, Yorkies and Maltese.

On December 1, after the jeopardy assessment was filed, investigators and attorneys from the Indiana Attorney General’s Office seized 124 puppies and dogs from Clark’s business in rural Bloomfield. Volunteers from several groups assisted the state in removing the animals, transporting them to the Pets Alive Spay/Neuter Clinic in Bloomington and providing for their care and veterinary treatment.

Filing a jeopardy tax assessment in civil court triggers a legal process where the Attorney General seeks to collect unpaid taxes. A delinquent taxpayer has the legal right to contest it by filing a claim for refund from the state. If denied, they can appeal to the Indiana Tax Court.

As a condition of a settlement, Attorney General’s Office will require that Clark must agree not to challenge the state’s authority to seize the animals to apply the proceeds to her unpaid tax liability. The state also will require that Clark must agree not to seek a refund or appeal, Zoeller said.

“To resolve this fairly, the state is willing to consider forgiving the remaining tax amount this delinquent taxpayer owes, provided she complies with our agreement and never again conducts retail business in Indiana or sells dogs here. We support the right of private individuals to operate small businesses, but every retail merchant has a legal obligation to collect and remit sales tax to the state,” Zoeller said.

The investigation of the Love My Pets facility began in June when two consumers complained to the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division 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, the investigation found.

Disease was a concern for the investigators and volunteers who exercised health precautions when they removed the 124 dogs from cages at Clark’s facility December 1. Upon being relocated to the Bloomington clinic for quarantine, the dogs and puppies have been examined by a veterinarian. Nearly all the dogs were diagnosed with one or more canine diseases, including Giardia, Coccidia, hookworm, other parasites, severe dental disease and other conditions. Once the dogs are treated, the volunteer groups who assisted in the removal operation and paid for veterinary care will oversee their relocation to regional pet shelters that will handle pet adoptions.