Envigo agrees to plea deal in Cumberland beagles case

Published 5:14 pm Monday, June 3, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Guilty. That was the statement issued and accepted in U.S. District Court Monday as Envigo RMS LLC agreed to a plea deal in its animal welfare case. The case stems from the company’s now closed dog breeding facility in Cumberland County, which shut down in 2022 after being cited for 74 violations of the Animal Welfare Act by the United States Department of Agriculture, including inadequate veterinary care and insufficient food. The company was forced at the time to surrender more than 4,000 beagles.  

There were two guilty pleas given in court Monday. First, Envigo RMS LLC officials pleaded guilty to conspiring to knowingly violate the Animal Welfare Act. Its sister company, Envigo Global Services, meanwhile, pleaded guilty to a felony of conspiring to knowingly violate the Clean Water Act. 

So first let’s go over the pleas and then we’ll discuss the penalties involved. According to court documents and agreed to by the company in its plea, Envigo RMS violated the Animal Welfare Act by failing to provide, among other things, adequate veterinary care for the beagles at its Cumberland facility. It also failed to provide adequate staffing and safe living conditions for those dogs.
As for the second charge, again based on court documents and agreed to by the company in its plea, Envigo Global Services violated the Clean Water Act by failing to properly operate and maintain the wastewater treatment plant at the Cumberland facility. This led, court documents say, to “massive” unlawful discharges of insufficiently treated wastewater into a local waterway and also impacted the health of the dogs at the facility.

What are the penalties?

Email newsletter signup

Now you know what the pleas were for. Here’s what was agreed to as the deal. First, each of the companies will serve between three to five years probation and pay a $22 million criminal fine, $11 million for each of the two guilty pleas. In addition, the companies will pay an estimated $1.1 million to the Virginia Animal Fighting Task Force and $1.9 million to the Humane Society of the United States. 

If you’re wondering what the Humane Society did, they found homes for all of the more than 4,000 dogs involved in the case, all within a 60 day period. On scheduled days, the Humane Society and its partners retrieved 300 to 600 beagles at a time to go to an adoption facility or go back with them to Maryland. Because of their efforts, the dogs have been relocated to 120 different shelters in 29 different states. And yes, you may have heard, one of the pups was adopted by Prince Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex. 

So in addition to those penalties, the companies agree to pay $3.5 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, to help restore the environment and ecosystems in Cumberland County. 

Now, another part of the agreement is that all of the companies will improve facilities and personnel beyond the standards set up by the Animal Welfare Act. The groups must spend at least $7 million to make this happen. 

And finally, the companies agree to visits by a compliance monitor, which will oversee the groups compliance with all these previous rules. The companies will ao agree to pay for the compliance monitor. 

All total, they will end up paying $35 million in fines, a record in an animal welfare case. 

Officials weigh in on Envigo case

“Envigo’s violations of the Clean Water Act and the Animal Welfare Act directly resulted in the contamination of local waterway, negatively impacting the health and wellbeing of the community, and the horrible suffering of over 4,000 beagles,” said Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares. “This precedent-setting case emphasizes the power of collaboration between local, state and federal authorities.” 

His comments were echoed by Christopher Kavanaugh, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia. 

“Envigo promoted a business culture that prioritized profit and convenience over following the law. This callous approach led to dire consequences: the inhumane treatment of animals and the contamination of our waterway,” Kavanaugh said. “The historic monetary penalties and significant compliance measures as part of these guilty pleas send a clear message: every company, in every industry, must have compliance and corporate responsibility as a critical part of their business model.”

Some background on the Envigo case

The whole thing started in July 2021 when the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) cited Envigo on 26 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, with 12 labeled critical. Then in October of that year, the USDA found 13 violations. 

During this time, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) also went undercover in the facility and witnessed the same violations as the USDA. As a result, PETA teamed up with other organizations, including animal shelters and humane societies, to create the Virginia Coalition for Beagle Protection. This collaboration focused on seeing the House and Senate bills that the Virginia General Assembly passed make it to the governor’s desk. 

Fortunately for the dogs and their owners, these efforts were not in vain. Senior U.S. District Court Judge Norman K. Moon filed a consent decree on July 15 that permanently barred Envigo from any activity requiring a federal Animal Welfare Act license. He ruled for Envigo to shut down and for the dogs at the Cumberland facility to be put up for adoption. 

What happens next? 

So just because the pleas have been accepted, that doesn’t mean the case is over. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 7 in the U.S. Court for the Western District of Virginia.