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KIYC: Questions surround new version of NJSPCA and what it’s doing with its money

New Jersey lawmakers decommissioned the group after a series of Kane In Your Corner investigations exposed how it engaged in questionable spending and sometimes failed to police animal cruelty aggressively.

Walt Kane

Jun 14, 2023, 2:41 AM

Updated 373 days ago

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A new version of a New Jersey animal welfare group is raising an old question: What is the NJSPCA doing with its money?
For over a century, the NJSPCA was New Jersey’s animal police, empowered to enforce the state’s animal cruelty laws. But in 2018, New Jersey lawmakers decommissioned the group after a series of Kane In Your Corner investigations exposed how it engaged in questionable spending and sometimes failed to police animal cruelty aggressively. The reports showed the NJSPCA spent tens of thousands of dollars on no-bid contracts with companies owned by board members, while many case files contained no notes or were never assigned to officers. Some complainants said they couldn’t even get their calls returned.
The NJSPCA is now back - this time as a nonprofit without law enforcement authority. And once again there are questions.
The new NJSPCA - led by the old group’s longtime attorney, Harry Levin - has been soliciting donations since 2019. But the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs says the NJSPCA is not registered with them as a charity, as required by law. The DCA also says the group has failed to file the required annual financial reports.
For Collene Wronko, an animal welfare advocate who helped blow the whistle on the old NJSPCA, the situation seems painfully familiar.
“We're right back to, ‘How are they collecting donations in a state that they have no charity registration for?’” Wronko says, recalling how the old NJSPCA briefly lost its charitable status for failing to file tax returns for three consecutive years.
It’s also unclear how the new NJSPCA spends donated funds. The last publicly available tax return is from 2019. It shows a quarter of a million dollars in contributions and just $12,000 in expenses, all for legal bills. Levin says the group has since donated to Bradley Beach police – the borough says it was for $2,500 – and handed out flyers at a pet expo in January.
That information only came after three months of repeated phone calls and emails. For most of that time, Levin said health problems made it impossible for him to answer questions, even by phone. Kane In Your Corner tried calling the NJSPCA’s board of directors, but only one replied, saying he didn’t know enough to talk in detail.
Levin says the calls to board members “caused tremendous upheaval.” He said one board member resigned, and a second was contemplating resignation.
Meantime, Kane In Your Corner finds there are still lingering questions about what the old NJPCA did with its assets after it shut down. Documents show the group sold its headquarters building in New Brunswick for just under $270,000 in 2019, and advertised squad cars and other assets for sale.
“We're sitting here four years later, scratching our heads as to where the money went,” Wronko says.
Levin, the old NJSPCA’s longtime attorney, insists he has no idea either. He says the new NJSPCA was “not involved with the former organization’s wind down and selling of assets. We did receive a small contribution from them.”
But Kane In Your Corner isn’t the only one asking questions. Sources inside the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General say that the agency is investigating what the old NJSPCA did with its assets.
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