Members of a family-led gang of international puppy smugglers have been jailed for duping customers into buying sick and dying dogs.
Thirteen members of a ring led by the Cawleys, an Irish Traveller family, were sentenced yesterday after making more than £300,000 in a sophisticated fraud involving a fake breeder.
The Buckinghamshire-based gang sold breeds including shih tzus through Daniel Yeboah, 45, at a house in Newport Pagnell, advertising under false identities.
They also used different addresses in Newbury, Berkshire, to collect £3,000 deposits for sick or dying puppies.
One person who bought a puppy was told it had been put down by the vets and was then sold another pet at twice the price.
The RSPCA recovered scores of animals from various addresses after a raid on Yeboah’s home in May last year.
The gang pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation, with six people receiving suspended sentences and fines totaling more than £45,000.
Other members of the family will be sentenced at a later date after earlier admitting conspiracy to steal from mail conveyances.
Daniel Yeboah was jailed for a year and four months after admitting conspiracy to steal mail.
Including him, 13 ring members were jailed for a total of 16-and-a-half years. Sentences ranged from nine months in prison to two-and-a-half years.
Judge Anne Hutton said: “It is clear from the material before me that this fraud was a sophisticated one, carefully targeted on people who were most vulnerable.”
She added: “This was callous and cruel exploitation of people’s love for animals.”
The court heard how puppies sold through Yeboah’s website included a shih tzu called Dennis, who cost £650 but was found dying in his pen and had to be put down.
Other animals were found squashed into crates.
The gang also sold another dog like a Pomeranian when it was a Chihuahua-pug cross weighing just over 5 lb (2.27 kg).
Yeboah admitted conspiracy to steal from mail on May 27, 2010. He was picked up by detectives in June last year as part of a joint operation with the Royal Mail and RSPCA involving 22 addresses across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Hertfordshire.
Veterinary checks also revealed four dogs had died of parvovirus, and a puppy called Coco was found dead in its pen.
The RSPCA said it rescued 29 puppies during the operation.
RSPCA prosecutor Emma Nott told St Albans crown court: “This family-run crime syndicate used an advanced and sophisticated system using false identities to advertise their dogs for sale as loving pets .”
“They were duping customers into buying sick animals or animals that had died.
“Many of the animals recovered by the RSPCA were underweight, suffering from untreated infections or matted fur.”
She added: ” The Cawleys made enormous sums of money out of their fraudulent business.”
The gang received sentences ranging from nine months to two-and-a-half years.
They included Colin Cawley, 50, of Chesham Avenue, London, who was jailed for 18 months after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation.
The judge also gave him a further nine-month sentence to run at the same time for postage offenses. He must pay £12,000 in total towards prosecution costs and has been banned from keeping animals for six years.
He admitted conspiracy to steal mail and had 16 dogs seized from his home which were later re-homed.
Colin and Mick Cawley’s mother, Carol Cawley, 65, of Chesham Avenue, London, was jailed for two months suspended for a year, 150 hours’ unpaid work and £12,000 towards prosecution costs.
She admitted conspiracy to steal mail and had 10 dogs seized from her home which were also rehomed.
Sidney Edwards, 28, of the same address in London was given 200 hours’ community service and must pay £964 after admitting conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation. He has been banned from keeping animals for five years.
The judge also ordered that his four-year-old German shepherd dog called Kyra be destroyed after tests showed it had parvovirus and coccidia.
Paul Edwards, 27, of Chesham Avenue, London, was the only member of the gang not to enter a guilty plea. He denied conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation but was convicted after a two-week trial last month.
He will be sentenced on May 7 at St Albans Crown Court.