NIXA, Mo. (AP) - A southwest Missouri man who said he made about $200 selling rabbits has been ordered by the United States Department of Agriculture to pay more than $90,000 for doing business without a license.
John Dollarhite, who ran Dollarvalue Rabbitry from April 2008 to December 2009, said he didn't know he needed a license to sell bunnies.
He was told that if he didn't pay the penalty by last Monday he could face possible litigation and civil penalties up to $10,000 for each violation. His attorney has told the agency Dollarhite rejects the proposed penalty and wants a hearing.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who grew up in a rural area, has taken up Dollarhite's cause. She told the Springfield News-Leader the proposed fine "defies common sense."
"They have much better things to do with their time than go after families that have sold some rabbits for pets," McCaskill said.
USDA spokesman Dave Sacks said the agency was trying to work out a different penalty, but he didn't know what that would be.
"We are working out an alternative to the $90K fine and plan to reach out to Mr. Dollarhite over the next week to discuss," Sacks said. "We are hopeful he'll be amenable to discussing it with us and let us visit his facility as we work the issue out."
McCaskill became involved after Dollarhite reached out to area lawmakers seeking help. The senator said if the USDA's alternative penalty isn't reasonable for Dollarhite, she will appeal all the way up to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a Democrat from Iowa.
The USDA learned about Dollarhite's operation after an inspector looking at a licensed facility found that some of the animals there came from Dollarhite.
The proposed settlement said Dollarhite sold 619 animals from April 3, 2008, to Dec. 21, 2009, even after being told several times that he needed a license. He has since closed the business, which sold rabbits for $10 to $12 apiece.
"I cannot imagine that the actions of Mr. Dollarhite would merit a fine or penalty that would be 272 times larger than what the 'average' fine ... would be, under the circumstances of this case, and would certainly hope that a reasonable hearing examiner would agree," Dollarhite's attorney, Richard Anderson, said in a letter to the USDA in which he asked for a hearing.
Sacks said the average civil penalty the USDA issues per animal is about $397 for monetary settlement offers involving unlicensed sales of animals. Dollarhite's penalty per animal would be about $146.
Information from: Springfield News-Leader, http://www.news-leader.com