Biggest transitions in New Jersey humane work since 1868
FREEHOLD, TRENTON, NEWARK, New Jersey––Whether humane work will be any more effective in New Jersey going forward from 2018 is anyone’s guess, but it will be done under different leadership and a new legal regime.
Familiar names move on
The New Jersey SPCA no longer holds law enforcement authority.
Roseann Trezza, 70, who plea-bargained a settlement of 16 charges of animal neglect on May 10, 2018, no longer oversees animal care at the four-shelter Associated Humane Societies of New Jersey. Associated Humane now holds 14 animal control housing contracts, down from five times as many circa 2003.
Lawyer Harry J. Levin, long representing both the New Jersey SPCA and the Associated Humane Societies, may no longer be the most influential person in New Jersey humane work––but he does now head the Associated Humane Societies oversight committee.
Hunterdon case led to state probe
And the Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter in Alexandria Township, closed since 2016, is reportedly soon to reopen under new management, supposedly not to include Theresa “Tee” Carlson, 88, who headed the shelter for 30 years before New Jersey SPCA officers hauled her out in handcuffs in 2014.
Carlson eventually accepted a plea bargain settlement of charges pertaining to the death of nine cats.
The New Jersey SPCA raid led, in part, to a State Commission of Investigation report that influenced the New Jersey legislature to strip the NJSPCA of constabulary law enforcement powers it had held since 1868.
Prosecutors take over
“The law enforcement component of the Monmouth County SPCA is now successfully headquartered with this office,” county prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni announced on June 2, 2018.
“Monmouth County residents are not going to notice any changes in the way animal cruelty cases are handled,” Gramiccioni pledged, but animal advocates throughout New Jersey are hoping to see big differences as result of the statewide transfer of authority from SPCAs operating under constabulary charters to professional law enforcement agencies.
Explained Gramiccioni, “The power of humane law enforcement was transferred to county prosecutors,” himself included, “and each municipality and police department is now required to designate a municipal humane law enforcement officer. The law also requires each county prosecutor to designate an animal cruelty prosecutor to investigate, prosecute, and take other legal action as appropriate for violations of animal cruelty laws.”
No more “constables responsible”
This is all––belatedly––as the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation recommended in 2000 and 2017, and the New Jersey Animal Welfare Task Force recommended in 2003.
Through 2017, New Jersey humane law enforcement was still done through the constabulary model introduced by American SPCA founder Henry Bergh in New York City in 1866, soon emulated throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Under legislation drafted and advanced by Bergh, nonprofit organizations incorporated as an “SPCA” could obtain state charters to appoint constables to enforce anti-cruelty laws within their home county.
SPCAs didn’t run animal shelters
Thus, from the 19th century until the mid-20th century, the term “SPCA” specifically meant an organization exercising limited law enforcement authority, as distinct from a “humane society,” whose mission centered on advancing “moral education,” including the message “be kind to animals.”
Neither SPCAs nor humane societies commonly operated animal shelters until the early 20th century. Some humane societies, already operating orphanages, took over managing public dog pounds as a way to employ the youths in their custody, teach them job skills, and help to fund their operations.
Other humane societies contracted to run dog pounds in response to the appalling conditions that prevailed among for-profit pounds, including often the sale of dogs and cats to vivisectors.
New Jersey SPCA still doesn’t have a shelter
Because the mission of an SPCA was specifically to do law enforcement, not to provide animal care, sheltering animals was usually subcontracted to a humane society. The ASPCA, for instance, did not have a shelter until after Bergh died in 1888.
To this day, “The New Jersey SPCA, headquartered in New Brunswick, does not operate a shelter, and its officers and agents do not handle or transport animals,” the State Commission of Investigation reported. “Local animal control officers or other entities that house rescued animals provide that service.”
Many New Jersey communities also have no public shelter for strays found at large. Instead, animal sheltering has been left to a hodgepodge of private contractors, like the late “Jo Jo the Dog Man” O’Neill (see New Best Friends & HSUS execs flunk economic logic that dogs understand) and humane societies focused on shelter operations, like the Associated Humane Societies.
Shelters & lobbyists
Founded in 1906, managing a Newark shelter since 1923 and adding others during the 1970s, Associated Humane Society now has dog-and-cat shelters in Newark, Union, Tinton Falls, and Forked River, plus the Popcorn Park Zoo and the Animal Haven Farm in Forked River, which house abandoned or abused exotic animals and domestic livestock.
Despite the 2000 and 2003 task force recommendations that the 19th century modus operandi should be updated and replaced, the New Jersey legislature in 2006 “solidified the SPCAs as the primary enforcers of the animal cruelty statutes,” the 2017 State Commission of Investigation report summarized, “with the aid of a well-connected Trenton lobbying firm retained for years and paid tens of thousands of dollars by the NJSPCA, the parent nonprofit corporation of the county societies.”
NJSPCA reduced from 18 chapters to eight
In the interim, the New Jersey SPCA itself in June 2004 revoked the charters of four purportedly dysfunctional chapters, including the Hunterdon SPCA.
An April 14, 2005 ruling by the New Jersey Court of Appeals left the New Jersey SPCA “as the lead agency in investigating animal abuse,” summarized Brian T. Murray of the Newark Star-Ledger, “but gave each county prosecutor the authority to oversee and guide procedures and policies.”
As county prosecutors began to exercise this authority, the New Jersey SPCA consolidated down to just eight chapters still operating as of October 2017.
NJSPCA lost tax-exempt status
The State Commission of Investigation re-examined humane law enforcement, it said, after “allegations from various sources about mismanagement and abuse of power inside the NJSPCA coincided with news media reports in November 2016 that revealed not only had the NJSPCA lost its 501(c) (3) tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for failing to submit federal tax forms for three consecutive years, but that it had also kept that information secret,” including “from donors who may have given money believing it was tax-deductible.”
55 investigators but 12-day average response to complaints
As of October 2017, summarized the State Commission of Investigation, “the NJSPCA’s law enforcement unit is staffed by approximately 55 investigators, including about 20 humane law enforcement officers authorized to carry firearms and some 35 agents” who were “authorized to investigate suspected acts of cruelty and write summonses,” but not to carry weapons.
Although markedly more officers and agents had been appointed between 2000 and 2017, the State Commission of Investigation found, “timeliness in response to complaints,” a problem then, had deteriorated to the point that “75% of cases did not result in a written report within 24 hours,” while “On average, it took 12 days for an officer or agent to make an initial response in the cases reviewed.
“Elsewhere, lack of timely response to complaints was the main reason that New York City turned over responsibility for enforcement of animal cruelty laws to police in 2014,” the State Commission of Investigation noted. “Since the New York City Police Department began taking the lead in responding and investigating animal cruelty complaints, response times to non-emergency calls have significantly improved, with most calls now answered within eight hours instead of the days or weeks it took in the past.”
Found the State Commission of Investigation, “The individual exerting the most power at the organization,” as of 2017 and for many years earlier, “is chief humane law enforcement officer Frank Rizzo, who was also the NJSPCA’s longtime treasurer until resigning from the post in April (2017).”
As treasurer, the State Commission of Investigation reported, Rizzo “was ultimately responsible for the NJSPCA’s failure to file its federal tax forms for 2013, 2014 and 2015.”
“The Commission’s 2000 investigation found the existence of a ‘wannabe cop’ culture at some of the SPCAs,” the 2017 State Commission of Investigation report recalled, “particularly at the Bergen County chapter, where several members of the current leadership of the NJSPCA got their start,” including Rizzo, bookkeeper Joseph Biermann, and president Steve Shatkin.
“After winning seats on the board and prevailing in a power struggle with the rival faction,” the State Commission of Investigation recounted, “the group created new policies, procedures and guidelines, many of which it borrowed from the New Jersey State Police. Chief Rizzo, for instance, uses the titles colonel or superintendent, which is the rank and title given to the head of the State Police.
“In the years since the SCI’s prior inquiry,” the State Commission of Investigation continued, “the NJSPCA has built a fleet of approximately 30 vehicles, more than seven times as many as it had two decades ago. At that time, the four NJSPCA vehicles – only one of which was equipped with police lights on the roof – remained parked at its New Brunswick headquarters.
“Now, many officers keep their NJSPCA-issued vehicles – the majority of which sport the NJSPCA logo and a lights and siren package – at home. The vehicles are equipped with advanced policing technology, including leased New Jersey State Police radios and law enforcement software.”
Among the vehicles are a mobile command center, a “special services” van, and a 10-wheeled military-style truck.
Meanwhile, the State Commission of Investigation discovered, six of the approximately 20 New Jersey SPCA were as of October 2017 operating “with expired commissions, which means that, by law, those individuals are not permitted to carry firearms or make arrests.”
More $$ for ammo than for animals
Further, the State Commission of Investigation found, “In 2014, the NJSPCA’s costs for ammunition – $25,102 – were more than for direct animal care, which totaled $23,004, according to the organization’s federal tax forms.
“Premiums & Promotions Inc., a Hackensack-based company owned by Rizzo, received more than $93,500 between 2013 and 2017 for providing promotional items, such as t-shirts and other paraphernalia with the NJSPCA logo,” the State Commission of Investigation recounted. “Businesses owned by other former trustees, or that employed a family member of a former trustee, received more than $108,000 for expenses related to vehicle repairs and for supplying NJSPCA merchandise.”
Not so good at collecting fines
The New Jersey SPCA appears to have been better at spending money than at collecting it.
“Based on its most recent 990 tax forms, filed with the IRS in January 2017,” the State Commission of Investigation said, “the NJSPCA had $804,920 in total expenses and $630,240 in total revenue in 2015 – a funding gap of nearly $175,000.
“The NJSPCA has a statutorily-mandated revenue stream – in the form of fines from animal cruelty violations,” the State Commission of Investigation mentioned, “but the Commission found the organization has no clue about how much it is actually owed in fine monies because it lacks an adequate method for tracking it. Additionally, the NJSPCA lacks a mechanism to pursue the revenue.”
Lawyer carries a badge
Attorney Harry Levin, continued the State Commission of Investigation, “who is not a commissioned officer, carries a NJSPCA-issued shield – which he showed to Commission investigators during the service of a subpoena – that identifies him as a special prosecutor. The NJSPCA holds no legal authority to appoint an individual as a prosecutor or to issue a shield with that designation.”
Levin “charges the NJSPCA at an hourly rate of $475 for litigation-related matters,” the State Commission of Investigation said, amounting to “more than double what state government proposed to pay for general litigation services in retaining outside counsel for legal representation.
$775,000 in legal fees over five years
Altogether, the State Commission of Investigation revealed, Levin’s law firm was paid “more than $775,000 in legal fees over the last five years. The organization spends far more on legal fees than for any other expense.”
“Review of the billings revealed that Levin failed to provide proper written notification of an increase in the hourly rate charged for handling litigation-related matters,” the State Commission of Investigation alleged. “The firm charged the NJSPCA at the higher rate for four years before documenting the increase in writing.”
Among the Levin billings, the State Commission of Investigation said, were $350,000 in connection with the closure of the Hunterdon County SPCA, and $100,000 “to contest a citizen’s complaint that the organization was required to provide financial records under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act. The court ordered that the NJSPCA provide the documents without a fee and to pay attorney expenses of more than $43,000 for the plaintiff.”
“I do not believe the SCI has jurisdiction”
Opened Levin, in a seven-page response appended to the State Commission of Investigation report, “I do not believe the SCI has jurisdiction over me or my law firm.”
Levin went on to question whether the State Commission of Investigation had jurisdiction over the New Jersey SPCA, and asserted that a State Commission of Investigation mention that he had been “disciplined [in 2012 for alleged conflict of interest] for actions arising out of a real estate transaction in 1998” was “thrown in just to make me look bad.”
Rizzo and several other New Jersey SPCA principals also sent responses appended to the State Commission of Investigation report, but the New Jersey state legislature evidently did not find any of the responses compelling.
Associated Humane paid same firm $3.6 million
As much as Levin’s firm was paid by the New Jersey SPCA, it appears to have been paid even more––nearly $3.6 million––by the Associated Humane Societies between 2004 and 2015, according to IRS Form 990 filings.
That Levin represented both agencies seems odd, in view of a long history of conflict, including legal conflict, between the Associated Humane Societies, various New Jersey SPCA chapters, and the New Jersey SPCA head office.
The Associated Humane Societies ran into trouble leading to the charges against longtime executive director Roseann Trezza, reported Karen Yi for NJ.com, after “a joint site visit by local and state Department of Health officials on August 22, 2017 inspectors slapped the agency,” specifically the Newark shelter, the oldest, largest in New Jersey, and headquarters for the organization, “with 40 violations.
“Since August,” Yi continued in December 2017 when Trezza was charged, “three joint inspection reports by state and local health officials have detailed gruesome conditions at the state’s largest shelter: carcasses in bags covered in flies, no water for some animals, dogs held in poorly ventilated conditions, and questionable protocols for euthanizing animals. The Newark shelter was cited for similar conditions in health inspection reports in 2009 and 2011.”
The New Jersey SPCA announced on May 16, 2018, that Trezza, after accepting the plea bargain settlement, “is prohibited from being involved with the shelter[s] for two years as part of the agreement that dismisses all the charges,” Yi wrote.
“Trezza will also have to pay $3,500 in fines to the Newark Health Department. But,” Yi finished, “she could return to work there after that probationary period, if the Newark Health Department approves.”
NJSPCA “opposed the plea agreement”
Said the New Jersey SPCA, “We opposed the plea agreement and are extremely disappointed with the outcome.”
Emailed Trezza to ANIMALS 24-7, referring to herself in the third person, “The charges were lodged against Roseann Trezza as she is the highest ranking executive officer of AHS. At the time of the alleged violations AHS had a full staff and managers to oversee shelter operations. Admittedly, there were conditions that did not meet health code standards, as shelter employees did not maintain the quality of the facility as AHS has in the past.
“On May 10, 2018, all of the criminal charges alleging animal cruelty were unconditionally dismissed. All but one of the health code violations were likewise dismissed. The remaining violations were acknowledged by Roseann Trezza and a small fine was paid.
Oversight committee under Levin
“Roseann will continue to serve as she has for decades as executive director,” the email finished. “She and the Associated Humane Societies board have initiated a comprehensive modernization program to update the facility and operations. Additional executive staff has been hired and compliance training for all employees has been implemented.
“An oversight committee has been appointed, headed by Harry Levin,” while longtime Popcorn Park Zoo director John Bergman “will continue in his role as interim chief executive.”
The Bernstein era
Both Trezza and her predecessor, Lee Bernstein, arrived as leaders of previous New Jersey humane reform movements.
Bernstein, then 72, resigned in March 2003, within hours of publication of a State Committee of Investigation report rapping him for financial irregularities. Related charges were settled in a June 2005 agreement that saw Associated Humane pay a fine of $138,057 to the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs.
Bernstein had headed Associated Humane for 34 years.
“Bernstein was credited with ending the use of gas chambers for animal euthanasia in New Jersey,” wrote Brian T. Murray and Tom Feeney of the Newark Star-Ledger. “He also led a legislative effort to ban selling impounded animals for scientific experiments. He made national headlines in 1994, when he (unsuccessfully) pressed cruelty charges against a man,” Frank Balun, “who killed a rat in his garden.”
Fought New Jersey SPCAs
Associated Humane, under Bernstein, put dozens of substandard for-profit animal control contractors out of business by using competitive bidding to win more than 70 local animal control contracts, three county animal control contracts, and the contract to provide animal rescue service to the New Jersey Highway Authority.
Under both Bernstein and Tressa, Associated Humane also aggressively publicized deficiencies within many of the chartered New Jersey SPCAs.
Fallout from Bernstein’s very first controversy at Associated Humane appeared to have the most to do with bringing about his departure.
Bernstein, then a member of the Newark city council, joined the Associated Humane board in 1967, and was hired in 1969 as the first salaried executive director of Associated Humane, which then had just the Newark shelter and few other assets.
Bernstein lost his Newark council seat before he took the executive director’s job, but was accused of steering a favorable animal control contract to Associated Humane while still in office. He served four months in jail for conflict of interest.
While in jail Bernstein met Al Bergamo and Seymour Medwin, both also serving time. Bernstein hired both as fundraisers, and also cut a deal with Bagger the Better, a West Long Branch company which telemarketed shirts bearing the Associated Humane Societies logo. All three arrangements came to grief.
According to the State Commission of Investigation, Associated Humane received only $220,062 of the $1.8 million that the telemarketing scheme reportedly generated.
Trezza, who had previously sold Alfa Romeo sports cars, succeeded Bernstein after having served as the Associated Humane Societies assistant director throughout his tenure, including for her first two years without pay. Her most recent reported salary was $112,000/year.
Doberman & pit bulls
Supervision and security at the Associated Humane Societies under Trezza first became controversial in August 2003, after the Newark shelter adopted out a Doberman named Luger who had been surrendered for euthanasia 87 days earlier due to allegedly dangerous behavior. Employee Talib Turner objected to the adoption. Turner was later fired.
On September 7, 2003 the dog killed adopter Valerie DeSwart, 67. Lawsuits brought by DeSwart’s survivors and Turner, who alleged wrongful dismissal, were settled out of court in 2008. The Associated Humane filing of IRS Form 990 for that year showed a line item of $225,000 for lawsuit settlement, declared as program services.
The attack had a sequel. Two pit bulls were impounded at the Newark shelter on December 4, 2009, after severely mauling Jersey City resident Maria Zaldana, 70, but were not euthanized after expiration of a mandatory quarantine interval, possibly because they were being held as evidence in the prosecution of their owner. One of the pit bulls on December 21, 2009 badly injured a 45-year-old cage cleaner.
Patrick the pit bull
Probably the most damaging controversy under Trezza, before the cruelty charges were brought against her in 2017, erupted on St. Patrick’s Day 2011 when an apartment house maintenance worker found a severely emaciated pit bull in a plastic bag at the bottom of a garbage chute.
The pit bull owner, Kisha Curtis, then 29, claimed she had left him tied to a railing, but in August 2013 pleaded guilty to fourth degree animal cruelty and served 18 months on probation.
Named Patrick by his rescuer, the pit bull was taken by Newark animal control personnel to Associated Humane, which then held the Newark animal control sheltering contract. Associated Humane sent Patrick on to Thomas Scavelli, DVM, of Garden State Veterinary Specialists, as per established protocol in special care cases, with Associated Humane paying the bills.
Early media coverage of the case, however, mentioned Garden State Veterinary Specialists instead of Associated Humane. Donations poured into the clinic. The clinic set up a special account for Patrick. This led to a dispute between Garden State Veterinary Specialists and Associated Humane over which entity should keep the money.
Meanwhile then-Newark mayor Cory Booker, now U.S. Senator from New Jersey, began touting the Patrick case in campaigning to raise funds to build an animal control shelter.
Associated Humane took a public relations beating in the case, especially as result of web postings by No Kill Advocacy Center founder Nathan Winograd.
Patrick was eventually adopted by a Garden State Veterinary Specialists office worker.
Will Hunterdon shelter reopen?
Amid the other changes underway in New Jersey, the new law obliging each county to form an animal cruelty task force may bring the reopening of the Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter, reported Lillian Shupe of Tap Into Flemington on May 11, 2018.
“After being closed for nearly two years, Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter has applied for a fire inspection and passed,” Shupe wrote. “The deadline for compliance with the new law is August 1, 2018. If charges are filed and any animals seized, they would need a place to go. Yet Hunterdon does not have a county shelter.
“Hunterdon County prosecutor Anthony P. Kearns III said his office has been in contact with Hunterdon Humane – as well as other organizations – to discuss options for housing animals,” Shupe added.
Carlson supposed to be gone, but she isn’t
“Until 2004,” Shupe recalled, “the shelter was part of the Hunterdon County SPCA,” but after the New Jersey SPCA tried to revoke the organization’s SPCA charter, the board incorporated the Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter and transferred the property and other assets to it.
“After the criminal charges filed by the New Jersey SPCA against Theresa “Tee” Carlson in 2014 were dismissed,” Shupe noted, “those provisions were to remain in effect permanently. However,” according to a Hunterdon Humane Animal Shelter filing of IRS Form 990 for 2015, filed on October 30, 2017, “Carlson is still listed as president and her husband Norman as treasurer, and Carlson signed the return as president” on September 7, 2017.
Missing board members
“Not listed on the board,” Shupe observed, are two members added in August 2014, “after Superior Court Judge Edward Coleman ordered the shelter to revamp its board of directors to include a minimum of eight members, preferably 10.”
One of the missing members, Mike Rogers, “served as president,” Shupe said, “until at least June 2016,” when he announced the shelter closing.
“The other board members listed on the 2015 tax return,” Shupe finished and ANIMALS 24-7 verified, “include Walter Wilson, an attorney who was disbarred in 2016, and Felicia Niebojeski, a veterinarian who had a practice in Clinton, New Jersey, before moving to North Carolina in 2011.”