Two senior managers of the Hamilton Township Animal Shelter, Todd Bencivengo, 56, the former director and Jeffrey Plunkett, 62, the health officer, have been charged with two counts of third-degree animal cruelty and one count of second-degree official misconduct.
They’ve been accused of euthanizing 236 cats and 93 dogs before they’d been held for the standard seven days to allow them to be reunited with their owners or adopted. Under New Jersey state law animal shelters must hold animals or put them up for adoption for at least seven days before they consider euthanasia.
It is alleged that these managers of the Hamilton Township Animal Shelter violated this law over a two-year period. There were multiple examples of mismanagement said the Mercer County Prosecutor.
Hamilton Council President Jeff Martin called for an investigation into the shelter after a $1.1 million renovation in 2015. This doubled the places for cats from 25 to 50. The kill rate at the shelter has been reduced by 1% while the budget has increased by 44% in four years.
It’s been claimed by the mayor that the charges are a political witch-hunt brought on by Martin and the administration of Gov. Phil Murphy.
Plunkett said that he had nothing to hide and that he was proud of the animal shelter and the staff working there.
There had been complaints before July of last year about inappropriate conditions at the shelter which led to an investigation and review by the New Jersey Department of Health in July.
This led to a report listing violations. Plunkett and Bencivengo were issued with summonses on Friday at the prosecutor’s office. They will appear before the Superior Court of Mercer County on May 21.
I am indebted to the NJ.com website for this new story.
Comment: From my perspective, I’d say that it is unusual for two senior managers to be charged with a crime like this. It is more likely that under these circumstances the usual course of action would be resignations or sackings. The criminal charges points to stress in the relationship between the town council and the shelter director i.e. a political backstory.