No felony charges for Helmetta Shelter operators

There was a major turn of events Wednesday in the animal cruelty case involving the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter, which was the subject of a

No animal cruelty charges will be filed against the operators of the Helmetta Animal Shelter.

No animal cruelty charges will be filed against the operators of the Helmetta Animal Shelter. (3/25/15)

HELMETTA - There was a major turn of events Wednesday in the animal cruelty case involving the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter, which was the subject of a Kane In Your Corner investigation.

The Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office has withdrawn felony animal cruelty charges against the shelter’s former directors and kicked the case back to municipal court. The decision has animal rights activists questioning the way the county handled the case, since the decision was made before many key witnesses, including the shelter's former veterinarian, were interviewed.

"To have it downgraded from felony to municipal charges, it just floors me," says Collene Wronko, the leader of a shelter reform group.

The Middlesex County Court Administrator's Office confirms the Middlesex County Prosecutors Office quietly declined to indict Michal and Richard Cielesz on felony charges earlier this month and requested that the case be remanded to municipal court. The decision came almost exactly four months after the  NJSPCA and Middlesex County Health Department closed the shelter because of disease-ridden conditions.  

While the felony charges might have carried a possible sentence of up to 15 years, the municipal charges are usually punishable by a $1,000 fine, according to Capt. Richard Yocum, president of the NJSCPA. The decision to drop the felony charges illustrates a continuing disconnect between the prosecutor's office and SPCA, which conducted the initial investigation. While SPCA officials repeatedly predicted that hundreds of animal cruelty charges would be filed, the prosecutor ultimately filed just six, only three of which were felonies, and those have now been downgraded.

Some have serious questions about the handling of the case. Dr. Alan Dubowy, former veterinarian at the shelter, says he and other insiders were never contacted by investigators prior to the felony charges being downgraded. "Why not?" he asks. "Why not talk to people who were actual, firsthand witnesses?"

Some animal activists also raise questions about what they believe could be, at the very least, the appearance of a conflict of interest. When Michal Cielesz applied for the Helmetta shelter director job, one of the personal references she listed on her application was an assistant Middlesex County prosecutor.

Kane In Your Corner placed repeated calls and emails to the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, asking to discuss the handling of the case. None of those messages were returned. Yocum said he was "disappointed" the more serious charges were dropped but "hopefully we’ll be able to get justice" in municipal court.

advertisement | advertise on News 12

Trending Video

Arrest made in Paterson shooting involving rapper, city 1 Police investigate if rapper Fetty Wap involved in Paterson shooting
A person has barricaded his or herself inside 2 Suspect in custody after Elizabeth standoff; child unharmed
Red Cross assists two families displaced after fire 3 Two families displaced after fire in Neptune
Caleb 'Kai the hitchhiker' McGillvary tells News 12 4 Lawyer files motion to dismiss murder charges against viral video star
Central Regional's Polina Dineva, holds six school records 5 Scholar Athlete: Polina Dineva

advertisement | advertise on News 12

More News

A superior court judge has ordered Helmetta to Judge orders Helmetta to release documents about animal shelter

A superior court judge has ordered the borough of Helmetta to release dozens of documents

Officials in Helmetta annouce plans to sell the Helmetta officials announce plan to sell animal shelter

The Helmetta Borough Council is planning to sell its now-closed regional animal shelter to the

Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter Ex-Helmetta shelter directors charged with animal cruelty

The former director and assistant director of the Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter have been charged

Helmetta council suspends animal shelter directors Helmetta council suspends animal shelter directors

The Helmetta borough council has voted to suspend Michal and Richard Cielesz, the former director

Sorry to interrupt...

Your first 5 are free

Access to News12 is free for Optimum, Comcast®, Time Warner® and Service Electric℠ video customers.

Please enjoy 5 complimentary views to articles, photos, and videos during the next 30 days.

LOGIN SUBSCRIBE