NEWARK – Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino and the Division of Consumer Affairs today announced that pet shop owner Vincent LoSacco and his “Just Pups” Stores have agreed to permanently stop selling animals in New Jersey and pay $326,000 to settle allegations they misled customers about the health of the puppies they sold, failed to reimburse consumers for animals that got sick or died, and committed dozens of other acts of consumer fraud.
Under a settlement with the Division of Consumer Affairs, Just Pups is permanently prohibited from conducting business in New Jersey, and LoSacco is permanently barred from advertising or selling animals in the state in any capacity, including, among other things, as an owner, employee, consultant, or independent contractor at a pet store, kennel, or breeding establishment, either in a paid or unpaid position.
“We’re pleased to finally close the book on Vincent LoSacco’s long and troubled history of selling puppies in this state,” said Attorney General Porrino. “By permanently banning him from New Jersey’s pet sales industry, we are not only protecting consumers from fraud, we are shielding families from the heartache of unwittingly purchasing a sick puppy and then being forced to choose between paying costly vet fees or losing their pet.”
“Buying a puppy is an emotional investment as well a financial investment. We will not allow unscrupulous pet stores to deliberately deceive consumers in this very important purchase,” said Steve Lee, Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “As this action shows, we will vigorously enforce the laws in place to protect consumers from suffering the emotional and financial cost of purchasing a puppy suffering from an undiagnosed or undisclosed illness.”
The settlement resolves allegations contained in the First Amended Complaint filed by the State in September 2016. The Complaint alleges that Lo Sacco and Just Pups violated New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act (CFA), Pet Purchase Protection Act (PPA), the Pet Regulations and the Advertising Regulations, by among other things:
- Selling sick or defective animals to consumers from stores in East Brunswick, East Hanover, Emerson, and Paramus.
- Misrepresenting as healthy and selling dogs suffering from Kennel Cough, Parvo, Bronchitis, and Giardia.
- Failing to reimburse consumers for veterinary fees associated with the treatment of sick or defective dogs, even after receiving veterinary certifications that the animals had been unfit for sale.
- Failing to refund the purchase price plus sales tax of an animal that died due to congenital or hereditary cause, within six months of delivery to consumer.
- Misrepresenting that dogs are healthy when such was not the case.
- Failing to have an animal that was examined more than 14 days prior to purchase reexamined by a veterinarian within 72 hours of delivery, as required by law.
- Misrepresenting on the Just Pups website that Just Pups can prove that all of its puppies are free from adverse health symptoms, when such was not the case.
- Selling an animal within the State of New Jersey without a completed animal history and health certificate.
The settlement also addresses the State’s concern that LoSacco violated the PPA in connection with his East Hanover store by accepting deposits and/or other payments from numerous consumers prior to Just Pups and LoSacco having the puppies examined by a New Jersey-licensed veterinarian.
In addition to permanently enjoining Just Pups and LoSacco from any involvement in the sale, advertising, breeding or kenneling of animals in New Jersey, the settlement requires them to pay a civil penalty of $290,000, $30,163 in restitution to consumers, and $5,876 in reimbursement of investigative costs. Under the terms of the settlement, the $290,000 civil penalty will be suspended if the defendants meet the terms of the agreement.
The allegations against LoSacco and Just Pups stem from the Division’s statewide inspections of pet shops to ensure compliance with the PPA, which took effect in June 2015.
Just Pups stores in East Brunswick, East Hanover, Emerson, and Paramus were among 26 pet stores cited for noncompliance.
In the months following the Division’s inspections, LoSacco came under fire from authorities in the towns where his stores were located.
State and local authorities charged him with more than 400 counts of animal cruelty and neglect in connection with his stores in Paramus and East Brunswick, including charges investigators found a gravely ill, emaciated puppy in a cage in the East Brunswick store that later died, and that he left 60 puppies unattended in small crates inside a cold van parked outside his Paramus store in April. LoSacco was also charged with hundreds of health code violations in connection with all four stores.
In March 2016, the Just Pups store in East Brunswick was closed permanently when the town council revoked LoSacco’s shop owner’s license. Just Pups in Paramus closed permanently in May 2016 when LoSacco did not attempt to renew his business license there. The Emerson store was permanently closed in July 2016 when the borough council voted against renewing his business license. The final Just Pups location, in East Hanover, was permanently closed in March 2017 when the town council voted not to renew LoSacco’s business license. The vote came a month after the store was placed in quarantine by the East Hanover Board of Health amid allegations that LoSacco had illegally transported puppies to his store from out of state without medical clearance.
Know Your Rights Before Purchasing a Pet:
New Jersey Consumer Protection Laws, including the PPA:
- Require that cage labels for every animal contain detailed information about the animal’s background including the name of the breeder and veterinarian who last examined it.
- Forbid the sale of any animal purchased from a breeder or broker who doesn’t hold required state and federal licenses; has violated certain animal welfare laws in the past two years; or has refused to grant inspectors access to its facilities within the past two years.
- Require that an animal be examined by a veterinarian within five (5) days of being offered for sale and that those results be included in the animal’s history and health certificate.
- Mandate that if an animal was examined more than 14 days before it is purchased, the pet must be re-examined within three (3) days of delivery to the consumer (unless the consumer declines the re-examination in writing).
- Potentially entitle consumers to restitution if an animal becomes seriously ill or dies within 14 days after the date of purchase and a veterinarian certifies within that 14-day period that the animal was unfit for purchase. It is the consumer’s responsibility to have the animal examined by a veterinarian and to obtain the written certification. This certification is required in order to apply for restitution and must be presented to the pet store where the animal was purchased.
- Make available different types of restitution to consumers. It is the consumer’s decision regarding which form of restitution to accept. The restitution choices include returning the animal and receiving a refund or a replacement animal of equivalent value, plus some veterinary fees, or keeping the animal and being reimbursed for certain veterinary fees. In the case of death of the animal from causes other than an accident, the consumer may receive a refund or another animal or equivalent value, plus certain veterinary fees. After the consumer provides the veterinarian certification and selects the preferred form of restitution, the pet store must provide the restitution within 10 days.
Investigator Donna Leslie of the Division’s Office of Consumer Protection conducted this investigation.
Deputy Attorney General David Reap, in the Division of Law’s Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section, represented the State in this action.
Anthony X. Arturi, Esq., of Arturi, D’Argenio, Guaglardi & Meliti, LLP, represented the defendants in this action.
Consumers who believe they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file an online complaint with the State Division of Consumer Affairs by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.
Additional tips can be found in the Division's Consumer Brief on "Purchasing a Pet," available in English and in Spanish.
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