Defendants Allegedly “Sold” 153 Nonexistent Dogs
LITTLE ROCK-Two Malvern residents have been charged with fraudulently selling purebred, registered puppies that did not actually exist. Helda Verla Berinyuy and Thierry Assoueesoh Ekwelle, both 31, are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 22 counts of wire fraud in an indictment handed down by a federal grand jury on May 4, 2021, that became public today.
The indictment alleges that Berinyuy and Ekwelle were Cameroon citizens who came to the United States and attended college in Arkansas, with Ekwelle eventually becoming a naturalized American citizen. According to the indictment, Berinyuy and Ekwelle were neighbors and students at Arkansas State University Three Rivers in Malvern.
Allegedly, from August 2018 through November 2020, Berinyuy and Ekwelle used websites to advertise the sale of purebred, AKC registered puppies such as French Bulldogs, Boxers, Toy Poodles, English Bulldogs, and others, when in fact, they did not have any puppies for sale.
In order to collect money from purchasers, the indictment claims, the defendants promised to deliver the puppies via airplanes. After receiving the initial purchase money, the defendants would request added fees to cover costs such as puppy crates, extra handling fees due to COVID-19, and pet insurance, among other things.
The indictment alleges that each purchaser sent the defendants an amount of money ranging from $500 to $5,000. The defendants would use various aliases to pick up the money, which was sent via Western Union and Walmart transfers at various locations throughout Arkansas. As a result of the scheme, according to the indictment, Berinyuy and Ekwelle “sold” puppies to approximately 153 victims from multiple states and received approximately $110,691.50.
Berinyuy and Ekwelle will appear for arraignment later this month before United States Magistrate Judge Thomas Ray. The FBI is conducting the investigation. Assistant United States Attorney Pat Harris is prosecuting the case.
An indictment only contains allegations. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
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