INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – More than two years of reports of sales of sickly and sometimes dyed puppies billed as pure-breeds, led to charges for a man and woman accused of running a puppy mill, officials said in records.
Michael Angel Mendez, 26, and Shelby White, 25, both of the 1300 block of 32nd Avenue just outside Vero Beach, were arrested Dec. 2, regarding alleged “fraudulent puppy sales,” according to Indian River County Sheriff’s Office reports.
Both were charged with at least 14 counts each of organized fraud, cruelty to animals, offering an animal for sale without certificate of veterinary inspection and offering a dog less than eight weeks old for sale.
The dogs were described in the report as not as advertised, in poor health and sold before they were eight weeks old or with no or fraudulent Florida Certificates of Health, according to a report.
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While a roughly 25-page warrant affidavit included accounts of at least nine people listed as victims, Detective Bobby Gage wrote, “It is assumed there are multiple more victims that have purchased puppies from Michael and Shelby throughout the State of Florida.”
The known victims ranged in age from 22 to 64 and traveled from areas including West Palm Beach, Cocoa Beach, Melbourne, Port Orange, Fort Pierce and Palm Bay to the Fellsmere area to purchase what they reportedly thought were pure-bred puppies, according to the affidavit.
A Indian River County Sheriff’s Office K9 deputy and another agency employee became what were considered victims after their $2,500 purchase of what was advertised as a black-and-white French bulldog in November 2021.
They met White in Merritt Island after contacting Mendez with interest in the dog, based on a “hand-written sign on the side of U.S. 1 and Roseland Road … that stated French bulldogs for sale.”
After noticing inconsistencies on its paperwork and attempting a return, the dog was later identified by a veterinarian as a 6-month-old Boston terrier with an intestinal parasite infection.
They ultimately “accrued hundreds of dollars in vet bills” treating parasite infection, according to the report.
In the first reported sale on Sept. 10, 2020, a West Palm Beach couple sought black-and-yellow Labrador retriever puppies found on Craigslist at $600 and $800.
The sale of the two dogs for $900 was made at Mendez’s former South Oleander Street address in Fellsmere, according to the report.
The man told detectives there he met a woman in the front yard and paid cash for two dogs thought to be black labs and for which he was assured he would later receive breed paperwork.
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The seller then said it would be an additional $400 for the documents, according to the report.
On Sept. 14, 2022, detectives interviewed the man in West Palm Beach, and reported that the dogs were “still black and full grown, but looked to be a large mix-breed dog.”
Another sale in November 2020 led to the involvement of deputies called to a disturbance reported by a man who said he was sold a dyed puppy by Mendez and White.
The man followed the vehicle after the sale, and called for deputies, who ultimately facilitated the refund of his $500 and the return of the dog to Mendez and White.
Text messages found in the report show Mendez allegedly told him before the purchase, “ … I don’t even work bro this is what I do,” and, “I don’t buy dogs no more than 20 bucks a piece, it all depends on what hits that week.”
Detectives reported Mendez claimed he had a “Miami guy” supplier, and he sent the man what were said to be pictures of “multiple puppies inside of metal cages.”
In a sale April 10, 2021, a Melbourne Beach couple drove to Fellsmere to buy a black lab for $700, but the dog reportedly turned “mostly yellow” after dark dye came off through several washings in days after the purchase.
A “lab puppy” advertised on a sign in Cocoa and sold for $650 on June 10, 2021, was euthanized days later with health problems a veterinarian found were “a direct consequence of their living conditions and likely poor breeding practices,” according to the report.
Although detectives said in the report White conducted most of the sales, Mendez set up the meetings later telling buyers he would send his “wife.”
On Nov. 15, 2022, detectives organized an undercover purchase at a restaurant off 58th Avenue in Indian River County after seeing a Craigslist ad.
While Mendez allegedly arranged the meeting, detectives stated White met the undercover detective after the agency’s HAWK helicopter followed her from their 32nd Avenue home to the restaurant parking lot.
A vet examination found the dog appeared to be the advertised age, but was not a “full bred” lab and was “highly positive” for several intestinal parasites.
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Deputies were also called to White’s rented home regarding at least two incidents involving the dogs at her home in November.
On Dec. 1, deputies entered the home at the request of the landlord who wanted them present during an inspection after learning Menendez and White were likely moving out and had not paid December’s rent, according to the report.
A deputy described “deplorable living conditions” and found two dogs in its garage “with garbage and feces … stacked 2-3 feet tall” and no food or water.
A judge signed a search warrant and deputies found similar conditions inside the home, with rooms covered in wood shavings, urine and feces.
Mendez remains jailed on $185,000 bail and White was released Dec. 3 on $91,000.