A puppy smuggler who made a “substantial profit” by bringing sick dogs into the UK via the Channel Tunnel has been jailed for over two-and-a-half years in what is believed to be the biggest ever case of this type in the country.
Aidas Gostautas admitted transferring over £50,000 back to Lithuania after selling more than 120 puppies from two addresses in Peterborough which were advertised for up to £1,000 through Gumtree and Pets4Homes.
The 44-year-old of Padholme Road sold French bulldogs and a Shih Tzu, among other breeds, which on occasions soon had to be put down by their new owners after discovering that they were ill.
Speaking at Peterborough Crown Court today (Thursday, February 18), Michael Coley, prosecuting, said that one of the dogs which had been bought was found to have a virus and another had to be quarantined.
And on another occasion, he claimed, one buyer returned to the address to get their money back after their puppy had become ill and died, despite being told that it had been fully vaccinated and had received a microchip.
Mr Coley added: “After a heated conversation with the defendant, they received £1,000 in cash but the defendant demanded the body of the pet, the pet passport, and said not to tell anyone else.”
Mr Coley went on to say: “He has a contact from Lithuania and he arranges for puppies to be brought here, I believe, by train through the Channel Tunnel.”
Unyime Davies, defending, said: “Perhaps the greatest mitigation Mr Gostautas has is he pleaded guilty to these offences. It’s right that this offence was financially motivated.
“Mr Gostautas and his wife were working in low paid jobs.”
She added: “Can I also express remorse for Mr Gostautas. He has finally learned his lesson. He’s expecting a custodial sentence and he has brought with him a bag as he is prepared for it.”
The court heard that the defendant was supporting his two daughters and was currently working as a mechanic.
Judge Gareth Hawkesworth, sentencing, told Gostautas: “You conducted a substantial business to a substantial profit for a substantial period of time.
“And I can only infer from the amount of the profits that you dispensed from the business back to Lithuania that this was part of an organised crime activity.
“These are cruel offences - cruel to the dogs, cruel to the purchases - and this sort of offending causes enormous distress. And it occurred because of greed.
“The gravity of these matters is not simply arising from the deception and the profit you were able to make, but bringing dogs into this country in the way that you do puts the health of other animals at risk.
“There is, of course, a risk that rabies could be introduced into this country, so the danger is not simply to the health of the dogs but the whole population.”
Gostautas pleaded guilty to 14 cases. He was sentenced to 27 months for misleading criminal property, which related to £52,461 he had transferred to bank accounts in Lithuania.
In addition, he received another seven months in prison for charges of violating the Animal Health Act, offences under consumer protection for unfair trading regulations, one charge of operating a pet shop without a licence, and a final charge of an arrangement to open a bank account which received £4,000 of proceeds attained through selling the puppies.
An investigation by trading standards identified and confirmed that more than 120 dogs sold were imported directly from Lithuania, which has been designated by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs as high risk for the transmission of rabies.
Gostautus led customers to believe that they were bred in the UK from a family pet.
More than 20 different pay-as-you-go mobile telephone numbers and email accounts were used to sell the dogs, many of which were placed into quarantine, as there were discrepancies between their passports, rabies vaccinations and dogs’ ages. Some new owners faced bills of up to £1,000.
Peterborough City Council believes this is the biggest case of illegal puppy trading that the UK has seen.
Peter Gell, head of regulatory services at the council, said: “We welcome the severity of this sentence as it recognises the cruel, persistent nature of offending, particularly as the court found Gostautas had conducted a substantial business, at a substantial profit, for a substantial period of time.”
He added: “Unfortunately this isn’t an isolated case and there are various unsavoury practices that currently exist within the industry. Anyone thinking of buying a puppy should take steps to ensure that they are buying from a legal and trustworthy seller.”
Councillor Nigel North, the council’s cabinet member for communities, said: “The trading standards team has done a phenomenal job in bringing this criminal to justice.
“The team is there to protect innocent people from exactly this kind of fraud. This criminal’s customers lost much more than their money - in some cases they lost a longed-for pet as well.”
Steps recommended by trading standards for those buying a puppy are:
1. Be suspicious if the seller can not show you the puppy with its mother and litter mates. View the puppy where it was bred.
2. Get as much information about where the puppy has come from and beware if the seller is from outside the UK.
3. If the puppy has been vaccinated ask to see all the documentation. This must clearly state the veterinary practice where this was carried out. Be suspicious if the address of the veterinary practice is outside the UK.
4. If the seller informs you that the puppy has been brought in from another country it should have a pet passport and be a minimum of 15 weeks of age.
5. Never agree to have the puppy delivered to your home address or to meet the seller to collect the puppy.
If you would like to contact someone about suspected illegal puppy trading please call Citizens Advice on 03454 04 05 06 who will pass the details to the relevant local authority or alternatively email firstname.lastname@example.org.