A federal judge in Harrisburg yesterday sentenced a Pennsylvania man to six months in federal prison for illegally trafficking dogs for medical research. This was not just another case on the docket; it marked the end of a sordid chapter in Pennsylvania history, a time when shady characters known as "bunchers" gathered stray dogs and cats from the street - and many times snatched them from yards and answered "Free to Good Home Ads" pretending to offer a comfy place for someone's unwanted pet. In fact they were operated like junk dealers taking animals to middlemen like the Martins who possessed the golden federal license that allowed them to sell animals to research labs. The Martins and others sold dogs at huge profit to the world's top medical facilities among them Johns Hopkins and Columbia University. University of Pennsylvania once got its dogs and cats from dog dealing kingpin Sam Esposito, who ran the infamous Quakertown Farms, where he bought and sold thousands of animals collected from auctions, pound seizures and theft from throughout the mid-Atlantic and South. For more on the history of dog trafficking, including in Pennsylvania, read the landmark book, Stolen for Profit by Judith Reitman. She also wrote a gripping piece in 2000 on dogs stolen for research in The Atlantic, From the Leash to the Laboratory.
Judge John E. Jones III speaking from the bench yesterday as the Martins sat stonefaced in the courtroom, said he hoped to send a message to anyone thinking of breaking the law in this manner.
After all, he noted, Monday was National Dog Day.
“There are multiple animal victims and that makes a difference to this court,” said Jones. “I hope this sends a message to others who violate the strictures kennels are under.”
Pa. man gets 6-month term in research scheme
By Amy Worden, Inquirer Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG - A central Pennsylvania man was sentenced to six months in prison Monday for his role in a years-long scheme involving illegal dog trafficking for medical research.
Floyd Martin and his wife, Susan Martin, pleaded guilty in March in federal court for their role in fraudulently obtaining hundreds of pets for some of the nation's largest hospitals and research facilities over a five-year period.
"You gamed the system not once but many times, wantonly, deliberately for great financial gain," said U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III told Floyd Martin during sentencing Monday. "You obtained dogs from a dead man and encouraged others to break the law."
Martin, speaking from a wheelchair, apologized for his actions, saying he had "made mistakes" but that admission did not satisfy Jones.
"I think you are sorry you got caught," said Jones, adding he would have given him the maximum 14-month sentence, but took into account that Martin suffers from multiple sclerosis.
Susan Martin was sentenced to three years' probation.
The two were ordered to pay $300,000 in restitution to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be used for animal-welfare work.
Under a deal with prosecutors, Floyd Martin pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud, while Susan Martin pleaded guilty to a count of conspiracy,
The Martins, who are Mennonite, operated Chestnut Grove Kennel in Shippensburg and were licensed by the federal government as Class B or "random source" animal dealers.
Class B dealers may purchase dogs from unlicensed individuals who collect dogs - "bunchers" - but those individuals may sell the dealers no more than 24 dogs a year.
According to the indictment, the Martins purchased hundreds of dogs from just two individuals while falsely certifying to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that they had purchased fewer than 25 dogs from multiple family members and friends - including one person who was deceased by the time of the alleged sale.
The Martins then sold the dogs to hospitals, among them Johns Hopkins, and other research facilities for hundreds of dollars in profit per dog, the indictment said.
About 3,100 dogs, or 3 percent of those used in biomedical research in the United States, come from random-source dealers, federal data show, down from tens of thousands 15 years ago.
Many research facilities, most notably the National Institutes of Health have moved away from use of random-source dogs, as attitudes on use of animals in testing has shifted and pressure has mounted against experimenting on animals that may have once been pets.
"The industry is dying on the vine," said Nancy Blaney, senior policy adviser for the Animal Welfare Institute, the Washington group that has focused on exposing the underworld of animal dealing.
She said only about six Class B dealers remain nationwide and several of those are under federal investigation.
"Dealers like the Martins and others thumbed their nose at the law for so long," she said. "The sentence is a good signal to those who remain that the government takes this fraud seriously and as a result takes animal cruelty seriously as well."
Rep. Michael Doyle (D., Pa.) has introduced a bill in Congress that would ban random-source dealers.