Florida Goes After Puppy Farm Family

     JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (CN) - Florida sued a ring of bulldog breeders to stop them from selling illegally imported puppies and misrepresenting their health and age to buyers.
     Jacksonville-based bulldog breeder Brook Anthony Roque and his family imported bulldog puppies from overseas at a low cost and sold them to unsuspecting consumers, who were never told the puppies had "dubious origins" and unknown medical histories, according to the attorney general's lawsuit in Duval County Court.
     The defendants include Roque, his parents and two other Jacksonville residents, who operated under various business names, including Five Star Bulldogs, Grand Bulldogs, Matrix Bulldogs and Remarkabull, the state says in its July 16 lawsuit.
     A state officer with 13 years experience in animal protective services said that "Brook Roque ranked in the top 2 of the worst breeders/importers he ever encountered," according to the complaint.
     "The defendants masqueraded as wholesome and caring family breeders who were raising their English bulldog puppies to be healthy, well-socialized dogs for their future homes," the complaint states. "In actuality, defendants lined their pockets while they consistently and systematically placed profits over animal welfare, ultimately endangering the health and welfare of the dogs they sold to unsuspecting consumers.
     "The defendants advertised and offered for sale English bulldog puppies online. Their online presence portrayed the defendants as family breeders that hand raised their dogs. Defendants advertised that their dogs were current on their vaccinations and would come with a health certificate, health guarantee, pedigree, and were AKC-registrable; all these assertions turned out to be false. Additionally, the defendants advertised dogs for sale that were younger than eight (8) weeks of age; this is unlawful."
     From 2007 to 2012, Roque and his co-defendants sold about 700 bulldogs for prices ranging from $1,500 to $2,300, making more than $1 million in profits, according to the lawsuit.
     The state claims the breeders fabricated health certificates to show that each puppy had received a clean bill of health and vaccinations, when in fact most puppies had never been examined by a veterinarian. In some cases, the breeders made copies of a veterinary inspection certificate issued for one puppy and used them as certificates for other dogs they sold, according to the lawsuit.
     And although Roque's ring sold more than 20 dogs a year and qualified as pet dealers, they never provided buyers the required consumer notice and functioned without an animal dealer permit, according to the complaint.
     Two dog owners who bought bulldog puppies from Roque for around $1,600 apiece discovered their puppies had congenital defects and serious health problems. Both buyers received forged health certificates that did not reflect the dogs' actual health, according to the lawsuit.
     "After purchasing their bulldogs from the defendants, consumers discovered their dogs suffered from either congenital defects, parasites, or other serious health or behavioral issues," the complaint states. "Consumers also learned that the health certificates were fabricated or forged and that their dog had not received adequate veterinarian medical care. Consumers were deceived into purchasing dogs with serious behavioral and medical issues. Consumers learned the AKC documents given to them contained false information or were denied AKC registration because the defendants' AKC privileges were suspended. When consumers called the defendants to complain that they had been deceived, the defendants would either ignore or deny the consumers' claims."
     In May 2013, Brook Roque was sentenced to 12 months in the Duval County Jail for burglary, dealing in stolen property and false verification of ownership on a pawnbroker transaction form, according to the complaint.
     The state claims that while he was in jail, his parents continued to illegally offer for sale bulldogs under eight weeks of age, without the required health certificates or accreditations.
     Despite multiple consumer complaints, which triggered investigations by the city and the Attorney General's Office, the breeders have continued their scheme to defraud buyers, according to the lawsuit.
     The state seeks an injunction, restitution, and civil penalties for violations of Florida's unfair trade practices laws.
     It is represented by Assistant Attorney General Johanna Nestor.