ARKADELPHIA, Ark. — Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge filed a lawsuit against Helda Berinyuy and Thierry Ekwelle, both of Arkadelphia, for creating deceptive websites and advertising AKC-registered puppies at discounted prices.
Hopeful families discovered after spending hundreds of dollars that the puppies were not real.
Berinyuy was previously arrested for this scheme in 2019, but that did not deter either of them from continuing their “puppy scam” operation into 2021. The two used phony names, false promises, fake documents, and even COVID-19 fears to trick consumers into their trap.
Berinyuy and Ekwelle are facing multiple violations of the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (ADTPA).
“Thankfully, no puppies were harmed in this scheme, but sadly, these two men scammed hopeful and trusting would-be pet owners out of hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of dollars,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “I will not tolerate unconscionable scams that are so harmful to Arkansans. Help me stop awful scams like this by contacting my office if you experience any fraudulent scheme.”
This scheme was uncovered in late 2018, by a Central Arkansas grocery store manager who contacted local authorities to report two males who had visited the store multiple times – using multiple names – to pick up money, usually $500 to $700, using Western Union.
The Benton Police Department discovered that between May 2017 and January 2019, Berinyuy and Ekwelle fraudulently took more than $78,000 from consumers who believed they were paying for a new dog.
Throughout their entire scheme, the two stole more than $160,000 from unsuspecting victims.
As internet fraud exploded during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, Berinyuy and Ekwelle revamped their operation to avoid detection and began using numerous websites and several electronic payment platforms, such as Walmart Money Center, Zelle, Money Gram, and Western Union.
After a website became known to consumers as fraudulent, they would take down that particular site and publish a new one in its place to target new animal lovers. Once consumers paid for a puppy, and in order to fleece them further, Defendants posed as representatives from the Little Rock Municipal Airport and told consumers that the airport required another $900 to ship the dog in a specialized crate.
Once customers realized this was a scam, they would try to contact Berinyuy and Ekwelle - with no luck.
The Arkansas Attorney General’s Office received multiple consumer complaints about Berinyuy’s and Ekwelle’s scam.
In Arkansas, each violation of the Arkansas Deceptive Trade Practices Act could result in injunctions and civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation.