Arlington Heights dog grooming school accused of defrauding students

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed a lawsuit Wednesday against an Arlington Heights dog grooming school for allegedly defrauding Chicago-area students out of more than $85,000.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Cook County Circuit Court against the Academy of Dog Grooming Arts Ltd., its owner and president, Sharron Panther, and secretary, Mike Panther, seeks full refunds for students who were allegedly defrauded by the school, in addition to civil penalties, authorities said.

"This school took advantage of students who paid thousands of dollars to pursue a career in animal grooming, but only received a worthless certificate," Madigan said in a Wednesday morning release.

According to the lawsuit, the Panthers, who are married, allegedly misrepresented the school's qualifications to potential students when it operated without a permit necessary for students to obtain the appropriate certificate.

Authorities said the Panthers allegedly accepted applications, application fees, tuition fees, health care fees and equipment fees totaling more than $6,000 per student in some cases, and provided certificates for "Professional Groomer" and "Groomer's Assistant" without a permit, making the certificates worthless.

An attorney representing the dog grooming school and the Panthers declined to comment Wednesday afternoon, and said he had not yet received a copy of the complaint.

The dog grooming school was ordered closed earlier this year by the Illinois Board of Higher Education, which also ordered the Panthers to turn over all academic records, which they have not done, authorities said.

But a dog grooming service at 1742 W. Algonquin Road, the same address as the dog grooming school named in the lawsuit, was open for business Wednesday morning, with clients dropping off their pets for appointments at the tidy storefront, where a groomer could be seen attending to a dog perched on a table.

An employee at the front desk of the dog grooming business on Wednesday said the Panthers were not available, and declined to comment.

According to the complaint filed by the attorney general's office, the dog grooming school offered a professional groomer and groomer's assistant programs, charging students tuition between $2,150 and $4,800, in addition to several fees, including a $945 equipment fee and $100 application fee.

Students who satisfactorily completed the program and paid their tuition in full would be awarded a certificate or diploma, authorities said.

The lawsuit seeks immediate turnover of student records in addition to full refunds of all money students paid and penalties, authorities said.