A Skowhegan woman arrested for deceiving people into buying dogs without vaccines was sentenced to three years in jail Wednesday, with all but 30 days suspended.

Nicole Bizier, 32, received her sentence, which will put her in jail for one month and on probation for two years, at Maine District Court in Skowhegan after pleading guilty to a charge of theft by deception during a dispositional conference.

She also has to pay $4,595 in restitution to the victims in the case.

Skowhegan police arrested Bizier in March after a months-long investigation that culminated in a search at her residence, where they found 11 dogs living in poor conditions.

The Somerset District Attorney’s Office agreed to the lighter sentence so that Bizier can enter drug treatment for her addiction to heroin, which was the fuel behind her pet flipping scheme.

“The sentence the state has agreed to is a gift,” Judge Andrew Benson said, adding that he wouldn’t agree to this sentence if not for the condition of entering treatment.

The state’s Animal Welfare Program, a division of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, started investigating Bizier in January after victims complained about buying dogs and puppies only to find out later that they were not properly vaccinated and that their papers were fake.

State agents and police initially arranged to buy a dog from Bizier, who also used aliases such as Sarah Landcaster and Sara Plummer, and then charged her with misdemeanors for falsifying records. She was told to stop selling animals immediately.

A March complaint of animal abuse, though, sent the agents back to Bizier. A dog that had severe tissue damage from extensive muzzling had been found in Pittsfield. The dog’s last owner was Bizier, who was again selling animals online.

On March 17, Skowhegan police and state agents executed a search warrant at Bizier’s residence in Skowhegan, where they found seven pitbull puppies and four adult dogs that were allegedly malnourished and kept in a poor environment.

Police found that Bizier was “pet flipping,” or getting animals for free from people looking to re-home them and then selling them online.

Since the case came to light, the Animal Welfare Program has seen “several other instances start popping up,” though none have been as elaborate as Bizier’s case, Director Liam Hughes said.

“There are people like Nicole out there that are willing to prey on people who want to help animals,” Hughes said. “Sometimes they pose as rescue from out-of-state, and they want to give you your animal at the rest stop in Kittery.”

The 11 dogs seized by the state are now all in loving homes, he said. The dog who suffered muzzle damage — now called Buddy — went to “a really great foster home and it turns out they’re going to adopt him.”

The district attorney’s office was prepared to call 15 victims to the stand if Bizier’s case went to trial and originally charged her with 16 counts of theft by deception, all felonies. As part of the agreement, however, all but one count were dropped.

Assistant District Attorney Francis Griffin said the state agreed to the deal, which results in a large reduction in sentencing, because Bizier expressed interest in substance abuse counseling.

Her substance abuse was “behind the scheme to get money,” Griffin said.

Bizier’s attorney, Peter Barnett, did not return a call seeking comment.

District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said she was satisfied with the outcome of the case because it gives Bizier “the opportunity to turn her life around by getting the drug treatment she needs.”

“If she’s not successful, there are three additional years that are hanging over her head,” she said.

Maloney has seen an increase in crime along with the opioid crisis, as people take risks to get drugs.

“The only way we’re going to be able to stop that is if we can deal with the person’s underlying addiction,” she said.

Bizier told the judge she had taken Suboxone, a brand name for buprenorphine, which is used to treat opioid addiction, while he was asking questions to affirm she was able to enter a guilty plea.

Her sentence is delayed until August 30 so that she can make arrangements for her two children.

Bizier will be on probation for two years, during which time she is required to pursue substance abuse counseling. She also cannot possess or use alcohol or drugs, commit other crimes or leave Maine without permission. As a felon, she also can’t ever own a firearm for any reason.

“Ms. Bizier, you really don’t want to come back,” Benton said before sentencing her.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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