KANEOHE (HawaiiNewsNow) - Today was sentencing day in the Waimanalo puppy mill animal cruelty case and many animal advocates are disappointed, saying the defendants got away with the crime.
Bradley International is the corporation convicted of 153 counts of animal cruelty, not the individual officers of that company and that made a huge difference when handing out the punishment.
As part of the sentencing process the Hawaiian Humane Society fought to get defendant Bradley International and its officers, namely Vernon Luke, out of the animal business.
"Do not let these officers of Bradley International get away with 153 counts of cruelty. They should not be allowed to own dogs of any kind or run any business involving animals," testified Pamela Burns, Hawaiian Humane Society President & CEO.
However defense attorney Jason Burks argued the corporation is guilty, not the individuals and therefore the court can't punish anyone but the company.
"They are trying to come into court and try to end run around it and hold other people responsible when at the outset if they really believed there was the evidence there, if there was the justification for holding other officers individually accountable criminally, for the financials they could have brought those charges but they didn't. I can only defend what the state brings before me and this is what they chose to bring before the court," said Burks. "This is a very unique and rare circumstance. It's not a typical thing to have corporations charged with crimes."
Judge David Lo appeared to agree. He sentenced Bradley International to reimburse the Hawaiian Humane Society nearly $371,000 for the care of the animals and he fined the company the maximum $306,000. However he did not issue jail time. And he did not ban any of the company's officers from owning an animal related business.
"As far as going into today's hearing this is about the best we could ask for," said Jason Burks, Defense Attorney for Bradley International.
"We're very disappointed. The Hawaiian Humane Society feels Vernon Luke escaped the whole situation. Obviously he's continuing and taunting the community by allowing it to continue and creating a whole new puppy mill on the Big Island," said Keoni Vaughn, Hawaiian Humane Society.
He is referring to the Luke family's new farm in Mountain View where another dog breeding business is underway. That operation will not be affected by the sentencing.
And since Bradley International has now been dissolved and has no assets so it's not likely to pay any of the money.
"Is there any chance the company is going to pay that fine and restitution?" I asked.
"I have no idea on that," Burks responded.
"They have no assets?" I asked.
"They have no assets so yes at this point unless something changes that's the situation it's at," responded Burks.
"People think the company is getting away with it." I asked.
"Everyone is going to have an opinion on this. Obviously this is a very emotional issue that upsets a lot of people," responded Burks.
"I actually thought about collecting dog urine and wait up here at the courthouse until Vernon Luke came and spray it on him so he would know what it was like," said Carl Juban, who adopted two of the dogs that were rescued from the Waimanalo farm. "You can form a corporation, do something like this, and then when it comes time to go to court, hire an attorney and dissolve your corporation and then you're free to go start up again."
"When people like the Luke's are allowed to continue to be in this business I think it is very sad," said Ginny Tiu, an animal advocate who adopted three of the dogs from the Waimanalo farm.
"They've gotten away with it today and they are going to continue to get away with it until something is done," said Vaughn. "They beat the system and they are going to continue to and more animals are going to suffer."
The Luke's were not at the sentencing but they did issue the following written statement:
"Unfortunate mistakes were made in the past and after today's ruling, the Luke family would like to move forward with their lives.
Our family has been the subject of malicious verbal abuse and harassment by persons who have heard rumors and have not taken the time to know our values.
We currently are not in the business of commercial breeding contrary to some misrepresented allegations and are looking to move forward from this matter," said the statement attributed to the Luke Family.
As for the misrepresented allegations the Luke's referred to, they say they do lease their property on the Big Island to a friend named Stephen Williamson and he manages the breeding and animal operations. The Luke's also say they have sold puppies from the farm on the Big Island at their pet store in Aiea, but they say they no longer have input in the breeding business.