IRS joins puppy mill investigation

SNOHOMISH — Federal agents are involved in the investigation into an alleged multimillion-dollar puppy mill Snohomish County officials raided in January.

A criminal investigator from the IRS met with Snohomish County sheriff’s detectives investigating Renee Roske, the owner of Wags ‘n’ Wiggles, a dog breeding business, according to more than 450 pages of police reports released Thursday to The Herald.

The report details deplorable conditions, the myriad diseases the dogs suffered from and the cost to the county to care for the animals. The documents also outline much of the investigation of Roske, 45.

A task force met on the case early on, records show. IRS agents told Snohomish County detectives that they wanted to review any tax records that were found regarding Roske.

The Snohomish woman quickly became the focus of the investigation after deputies and animal control officers rescued more than 150 dogs in January from grim conditions at a home near Gold Bar.

Witnesses told deputies the dogs belonged to Roske. The home that was raided is owned by Roske’s sister.

Many dogs required extensive veterinary treatment.

The Snohomish County auditor’s office, which includes animal control officers, spent more than $30,000 on the puppy mill investigation, according to the documents. That figure included more than $16,000 paid to the Everett Animal Shelter to impound the dogs.

The cost of the ongoing criminal investigation was not divulged.

Jason and Serenna Larsen, the couple who prosecutors say lived in the home and were responsible for the animals care, told investigators they worked for Roske. The Larsens each face six counts of first-degree animal cruelty.

Roske has not been charged. She lost her business license because of kennel violations.

Roske told police the dogs in Gold Bar were not hers. She said the Larsens were stealing from her and she was tired of their “white lies,” the papers said.

The puppy mill investigation stretched to Skagit County, where more than 450 dogs were seized from a kennel belonging to Roske’s parents, Richard and Marjorie Sundberg. The Sundbergs face animal cruelty charges in Skagit County Superior Court.

The day after deputies raided the Gold Bar home, officials served search warrants in rural Snohomish at Roske’s home and her sister’s house. No dogs were seized. Officials seized financial records and what they believe were illegal drugs.

Roske told police that many of the dogs kept in Snohomish had been moved the night before the raid to her parents’ kennel near Mount Vernon, the reports say.

During the Gold Bar raid, officials found several dead puppies in a freezer. Jason Larsen told police Roske instructed him to freeze stillborn animals in case a necropsy was required.

Another woman who once worked for Roske also told police she was instructed to freeze dead animals.

Roske called the frozen bodies “pupsicles,” a witness told detectives.

At least one of the frozen animals found in Gold Bar likely was alive before it was placed in the freezer, according to a veterinarian who police summoned to help with the investigation.

Roske has been on the radar screen of Snohomish County officials for at least a dozen years for kennel violations.

Witnesses told investigators they needed to take a hard look at Roske for a variety of possible illegal activity.

One person told detectives Roske may have reported a car stolen to claim insurance money. He said he towed the car to a Monroe transmission shop. The sheriff’s office tracked down the vehicle, stripped of its valuable parts.

The same person told detectives Roske allegedly sold marijuana, OxyContin and pain pills. He told detectives she dealt in stolen gift cards.

Another person described how she had once worked for Roske in her home as “slave,” the documents said. The woman told investigators Roske paid for her room, board and minor expenses in exchange for the woman’s help caring for Roske’s dogs. The Larsens reportedly described a similar agreement at the Gold Bar puppy mill, where they worked like indentured servants.

Around 277 people contacted the sheriff’s office after a special e-mail account was created by investigators for former customers of Roske and her Wags ‘n’ Wiggles business. More than 120 people completed statements.

Many people told the sheriff’s office about problems with dogs they bought from Roske. Dogs often had serious health issues that weren’t disclosed, the records show. Customers also reported they were misled about the lineage of the mixed-breed dogs they were purchasing.

A Bothell woman said she purchased two dogs, named Ben and Jack, from Roske against her judgment.

“We bought them even though we knew better, to get them home and make them happy, because clearly they were not,” the woman wrote to county officials.

She accused Roske of breeding dogs that were “never healthy, just sickly little shadows.”

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