The founder of a Madison County service dogs company has agreed to pay approximately $3 million in restitution and other penalties for deceiving customers.
According to a news release from the Office of the Attorney General, Charles D. Warren Jr., the founder of Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers, sold so-called service dogs that purportedly could assist people who have diabetes, autism, seizure disorders or post-traumatic stress. However, in reality, customers often were delivered poorly trained puppies with significant behavioral issues and inadequate skills or training.
In May 2018, state Attorney General Mark Herring sued Warren in Madison County Circuit Court for alleged violations of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act and the Virginia Solicitation of Contributions law. Warren charged $18,000 to $27,000 per animal, according to the lawsuit.
An amended version of the lawsuit also alleged that Warren misled customers, charitable donors and the general public about certain aspects of the business’s payment structure, its affiliation with local law enforcement agencies and Warren’s own military service.
“Not only did Dan Warren deceive consumers across the country, his reckless actions put people’s health at risk by selling them purported service dogs that were little more than untrained puppies,” Herring said in the release.
“Families rely on service dogs to help them, and lying about what these animals can do could leave them with absolutely no protection against a life-threatening situation. I am incredibly proud of my Consumer Protection team for their hard work and dedication on this case and we will continue to hold those bad actors who take advantage of Virginians accountable.”
Under the terms of the agreement, Warren will have a judgment entered against him and have to pay:
$514,406.39 in restitution for affected consumers;
$1,447,919.18 to the commonwealth for the use and benefit of charitable organizations that support those or similar purposes for which the funds were collected by SDWR;
$822,500 to the commonwealth for civil penalties; and
$279,200.75 to the commonwealth for attorneys’ fees and expenses incurred in investigating and litigating the case.
Warren initially must pay $40,000 toward the restitution amount for consumers. However, per the release, the collection of civil penalties and attorneys’ fees will be suspended, provided that Warren complies with a swath of conditions, including: a lifetime prohibition from holding any fiduciary position or office at any charitable or nonprofit organization in any jurisdiction; a lifetime prohibition from soliciting donations for any charitable or nonprofit organization; and a lifetime prohibition from holding any position in any organization or corporate entity that raises, breeds, trains, sells or places companion or agricultural animals, among other conditions.
Herring’s office previously recovered $90,000 in sanctions during a prior enforcement action against Warren and SDWR. That will be applied to restitution and distributed to consumer victims, according to the release.