A Coeur d’Alene reptile dealer investigated for allegedly fraudulent business practices has agreed to pay $15,000 to former customers and change how it advertises its animals.
The legal settlement announced today concludes a year-long investigation by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who had alleged that Timothy M. West and his sons, Michael B. West and Timothy J. West, made false, misleading or deceptive representations to consumers regarding the animals they sold.
Operating out of a large home at 2482 East Sundown Dr. near Hayden Lake, the Wests do business under several names: TMT Reptiles, West Interest, West Reptiles, Kingdom Breeders and Co-Op Breeding Program.
The agreement does not constitute an admission by the Wests of any violation of law. Calls to phone numbers associated with the businesses seeking comment on the settlement were not returned.
The Wests advertised in newspapers and online that consumers could earn $20,000 to $40,000 per year from breeding the Wests’ genetically superior reptiles, Wasden said.
Consumers paid thousands of dollars for bearded dragons, geckos, tortoises and other animals from the Wests. In many instances, Wasden said, the animals were sickly, dead or sexually incompatible. In most cases, the animals did not reproduce, he said, and if they did, the Wests did not buy the offspring from the consumers, he said.
Also, there was no indication the animals the Wests sold were genetically superior to those available at local pet stores, Wasden said. And none of the consumers who complained to the state reported earning $20,000 to $40,000, he added.
“This agreement protects consumers from losing their money to a deceptive business opportunity and stops TMT Reptiles from misrepresenting the quality of its animals,” the attorney general said in a news release. “Unsubstantiated earnings claims are prohibited by both Idaho law and federal law. Consumers should ignore any claim that they can make thousands of dollars by stuffing envelopes or assembling crafts at home.”
The settlement prohibits TMT Reptiles and its owners from:
•Selling animals that are sick or dying.
•Making claims that animals have special genetic qualities that cannot be substantiated.
•Misrepresenting the breed, sex, age or health of an animal.
•Advertising that the Wests have specialized knowledge regarding genetics or breeding that they don’t have.
•Guaranteeing an animal will reproduce unless the company gives a 100 percent unconditional refund.
•Maintaining animals in dirty, overcrowded, or inhumane conditions.
In addition, at the consumer’s request the company must refund the consumer’s money or supply a replacement animal if an animal dies due to no fault of the consumer within 14 days of receipt, according to the agreement.
The company also agreed to provide a replacement animal if the animal dies within 90 days of receipt, Wasden’s office said.
TMT Reptiles paid $1,000 to cover the AG’s investigative costs and fees. A $15,000 civil penalty is held in abeyance pending the company’s compliance with the settlement.
The Attorney General’s Office said it will notify consumers who are eligible to receive restitution. Consumers do not need to file complaint forms or contact the office.
For additional information about the restitution distribution process or to read the settlement agreement, go to www.ag.idaho.gov.