An undercover investigation has revealed that an alleged conman has been again been selling underage kittens from the boot of his car around Ballarat, with activists calling for more enforcement of laws put in place to limit the illegal sale of animals.
During the past couple of months, activists from Oscar's Law have been working undercover to investigate the notorious Con Petropoulos, or Konstantinos Petropoulos, for allegedly illegally selling a range of kittens - including Ragdolls, Persian and Siamese kittens - for up to $1800 each.
Mr Petropoulos, along with his wife, have fronted court for similar offences involving selling sick, dying and underage kittens on a number of occasions. In March last year, the pair were placed on a good behaviour period of 18 months, which included being prohibited from conducting or working in a Domestic Animal Business.
However, the investigation reveals that Mr Petropoulos allegedly broke the order and has continued to illegally sell kittens from the boot of his car using a range of pseudonyms.
In footage obtained by the investigators, Mr Petropoulos meets 'buyers' at locations including Oliver's Real Food in Warrenheip, outside Foodworks in Buninyong and at Hungry Jacks in central Ballarat.
He uses different names, including Tomas and Yani, at each of these meetings. In one video, Mr Petropoulos claims he has been breeding cats for 18 years, and has six at home.
In addition to breaking the order, Oscar's Law also alleges that he is using stolen microchip numbers from Victoria's new Pet Exchange Register, in addition to falsifying documents including immunisation records.
The Pet Exchange Register is a key component of Victoria's landmark puppy farm legislation, which was passed in 2017, and aimed to "reform the dog breeding and pet shop industries in Victoria and better regulate the sale of dogs and cats".
'Betty' was purchased from Mr Petropoulos as part of the investigation, as the investigators deemed her to be in serious need of veterinary care.
While the investigator was told at the time of the sale, in the Hungry Jacks carpark, that Betty was around 10 weeks old, a reputable vet in the region - in a vet certificate seen by The Courier - believed she was actually as young as five or six weeks old.
The legal age to sell a kitten is eight weeks.
Most of the kittens are advertised for sale in Melbourne, though many of the sales have been completed in the Ballarat region.
Investigators also posed as a buyer for another sale of a Persian kitten which was located in Camberwell. Mr Petropoulos then allegedly asked the undercover investigators to meet him in Buninyong, as he was visiting his country property during the school holidays.
Oscar's Law founder Debra Tranter said the revelations raised concerns about how the Victorian Government was ensuring the laws around Victoria's Pet Exchange Register were being enforced.
In May, she said the animal advocacy group filed a complaint to RSPCA Victoria, Animal Welfare Victoria and Victoria Police officers in Geelong amid concerns that Petropoulos was deceiving the Pet Exchange Register by allegedly using 14 different source codes, faking microchip numbers and using 17 different phone numbers to run 12 separate Gumtree accounts.
Ms Tranter said each authority failed to act and since then more than 20 ads - worth more than $72,000 - had been posted. This is what prompted volunteers to investigate the matter themselves.
"It is incredibly frustrating that a convicted criminal with a court-imposed banning order has (allegedly) continued to sell kittens to an unsuspecting public. Either the toughest animal welfare legislation in Australia isn't working - or it's failing to be enforced," Ms Tranter said.
Ms Tranter said the state government had invested millions of dollars into the establishment of Animal Welfare Victoria and the RSPCA Victoria's Major Investigations Team, yet it was volunteers who were required to go undercover and capture allegedly illegal behaviour to see action be taken.
"It is a complete failure of the system," she said. "It's just disappointing."
Ms Tranter urged Minister Jaclyn Symes to "step in and fix this mess".
"Her predecessor worked so hard for this landmark legislation to pass, it shouldn't be a battle to ensure it is enforced," Ms Tranter said.
Western Victorian MP Andy Meddick, a member of the Animal Justice Party, said it was "disappointing but not surprising that conman Con had been caught again."
"This is a man with no regard for the law and his banning order given in March... He needs the book thrown at him," Mr Meddick said.
"The responsibility to capture illegal behaviour should never be on volunteers, especially when a report has been made to all responsible authorities with no action."
He backed-up Ms Tranter's call to Ms Symes to ensure the laws are enforced.
"As long as animals are able to be sold on online sites like Gumtree and Trading Post, a platform will be given to people like Mr Petropoulos. Anyone looking for a new companion should choose adoption through a shelter, rescue group or a reputable pet rescue site."
Mr and Mrs Petropoulos entered guilty pleas to four consolidated charges in March 2019. Rather than a jail term, they were placed on an adjourned good behaviour period of 18 months, as well as being prohibited from conducting or working in a domestic animal business.
Lisa Calleja, Inspectorate Team Leader Major Investigations at RSPCA Victoria said the team was reviewing recent reports and was looking into the information provided.
"RSPCA Victoria can confirm no new official reports were received relating to the person of interest until 3rd July, 2020," Ms Calleja said.
However, in emails between Ms Tranter and Ms Calleja, seen by The Courier, Ms Calleja confirmed "the RSPCA received the letter sent to Victoria Police on 19th May 2020."
In a statement to The Courier, Ms Calleja said as it was an active investigation, further comments could not be made about the case.
Ms Calleja said the inspectorate regularly monitored online sale channels in order to detect potential illegal behaviour.
An Animal Welfare Victoria spokesperson said all complaints received were "taken seriously and assessed".
How to adopt an animal legally
The Domestic Animals Act 1994 legislates that the sale of animals in public places such as parks, roadsides and car parks is illegal.
Ms Calleja said dogs and cats must be sold from either a registered domestic animal business, from a private residence or sold at a place where an animal sale permit is in place.
The maximum penalty for an individual or body corporate which sells dogs and cats from a public space are $4,956 and $24,783.
Ms Calleja said the RSPCA strongly advised against buying an animal online, and that online resources such as the RSPCA Smart Puppy and Kitten Buyer's guide provided useful information for people seeking a reputable breeder.
"Put simply, potential pet owners should visit the place where the puppy or kitten was born, meet the mother (and father if possible) to make sure they're happy and healthy and check the breeder provides a high standard of care and living conditions for all their animals," Ms Calleja said.
She urged the community to report cruelty.
Anyone who has knowledge or information relating to animal cruelty or has concerns about the welfare of an animal are encouraged to call 03 9224 2222 or visit rspcavic.org to make a report online.
Neither Jaclyn Symes or Mr Petropoulos could be contacted for comment.