Coin-can scandal & alleged penny-pinching end an era at Associated Humane

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2003–

NEWARK–Lee Bernstein, 72, resigned on
March 5, 2003, after 34 years as executive
director of the Associated Humane Societies of
New Jersey.
Few heads of humane societies anywhere have served longer.
Bernstein was succeeded by Roseann
Trezza, 58, the Associated Humane Societies’
assistant director since 1968.

Joining Associated Humane as a volunteer
after a much more glamorous stint selling Alfa
Romeo sports cars, Trezza served without pay for
two years before accepting $125/month in 1970.
Her 2001 pay was $88,464–slightly more than
Bernstein paid himself, and significantly less
than the salaries of people in comparable
positions with other humane societies of
comparable size in the greater New York City
metropolitan area.
Bernstein, wrote Brian T. Murray and Tom
Feeney of the Newark Star-Ledger, “was credited
with ending the use of gas chambers for animal
euthanasia in New Jersey. 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 who killed a rat in his garden.”

Made enemies

Bernstein led Associated Humane in a long
fight to raise New Jersey animal control
standards. During his tenure Associated Humane
put numerous substandard private animal control
providers out of business by taking their
business away through competitive bidding on
municipal contracts. Associated Humane now holds
about 70 local animal control contracts, three
county animal control contracts, and provides
animal rescue service to the New Jersey Highway
Under Bernstein, Associated Humane also
aggressively publicized deficiencies within many
of the 18 chartered New Jersey SPCAs.
Many of the Associated Humane criticisms
of the SPCAs were affirmed in May 2001 by the
State Commission of Investi-gation. On February
7, 2003, New Jersey Governor James E. McGreevey
appointed a 30-member Animal Welfare Task Force
whose job during the next year is to recommend
reforms in the antiquated New Jersey humane law
enforcement and animal control system. Prominent
appointees include Nina Austenberg of the Humane
Society of the U.S., Lisa Weisberg of the
American SPCA, Terry Fritzges of the New Jersey
Animal Rights Alliance, Stu Goldman of the
Monmouth County SPCA, and Linda Ditmars of the
Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting.
But after hitting the SPCAs, the State
Commission of Investigation produced a follow-up
report accusing Bernstein of holding too much
money in reserve and spending too little on the
care and comfort of the 15,000 animals admitted
each year to the Associated Humane shelters.
Bernstein resigned within hours of the
report reaching New Jersey news media.
The allegations against Bernstein had
been amplified since 1995 by a coalition of
ex-staff and former volunteers. In the interim,
AHS built a new cat shelter and renovated other

Trusted ex-convicts

In the end, fallout from Bernstein’s
very first controversy at Associated Humane
appeared to have the most to do with bringing
about his departure.
Bernstein joined the AHS board in 1967,
while also serving as a member of the Newark city
council, and was hired in 1969 as the first
executive director of AHS, which then had just
one shelter and few other assets.
“Bernstein lost his council seat before
he took the executive director’s job,” Murray
and Feeney said, “but he was accused of steering
a favorable animal control contract to the AHS
when still in office, and served four months in
jail for conflict of interest.”
While in jail Bernstein met Al Bergamo,
who according to Asbury Park Press staff writer
Tom Troncone “was serving time for running a
gambling operation in Essex County. Upon his
release from jail,” Troncone continued,
“Bergamo and another convict, Seymour Medwin,
went to work for Bernstein,” managing a coin
cannister fundraising program.
“Bergamo said the canisters yielded
‘about $5,000 to $6,000 a week,’ but admits to
giving Associated Humane only $1,000 per week
until 1999, and $1,200 per week thereafter,”
Troncone continued. “According to contract, he
should have been handing over between $1,650 and
$2,000 per week, based on how much was
contributed. Illeana Saros, who headed the
Commission of Investigation probe, said there
was no formal accounting, and no way of knowing
how much money Bergamo made, either with Medwin
or through the front companies he founded when a
new state law in 1994 made him ineligible as a
convicted felon to register to do charitable
fundraising. Medwin left the business in 1995,
and died” on July 19, 1999, according to Social
Security Administration records.
Bergamo continued to run afoul of the law
while representing Associated Humane, receiving
a contempt of court citation in 1993 for
violating a restraining order, and
plea-bargaining a May 2002 charge of cocaine
possession down to conviction for disorderly
conduct, according to Andrew Johnson of The
Press of Atlantic County.
Bernstein fired Bergamo after the latter incident.

Dead man talking

Medwin, meanwhile, set up a parallel
coin cannister fundraising scheme with another
former Associated Humane fundraiser, Patrick
Jemas, doing business as the National Animal
Welfare Foundation.
ANIMAL PEOPLE and John-Henry Doucette of
the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, New York,
recently published exposés of that operation
after receiving complaints about it from
Associated Humane and Sara Whelan, founder of
the Pets Alive shelter in Middletown. Neither
ANIMAL PEOPLE nor Doucette found any verifiable
record of National Animal Welfare Foundation
program activity–but on February 20 Doucette,
unaware that Medwin was dead, interviewed a NAWF
representative by telephone who identified
himself as Medwin.
“Medwin said questions must be written and mailed
to the charity. We will publish any responses as
soon as we receive them,” said Doucette.
The New Jersey State Commission of
Investigation also rapped Associated Humane for a
deal with Bagger the Better, “a West Long Branch
company which telemarketed shirts bearing the AHS
logo and plain garbage bags,” according to
Troncone. Associated Humane received only
$220,062 of the $1.8 million that the scheme
reportedly generated between 1996 and 2001.
At that, Associated Humane was more
successful in telemarketing than the Humane
Society of the U.S., whose telemarketing
contractor in 1998-2001 was a firm called Share
Group. Following up on a report by New York
state attorney general Eliot Spitzer, New York
Post reporter Susan Edelman disclosed in November
2002 that HSUS paid $3.1 million to raise $2.7
“While none of those donations went to
help animals, the telemarketers signed on 19,000
supporters willing to give an average of $10 per
month,” wrote Edelman.
“The payoff is down the road,” Edelman
said HSUS chief financial officer Tom Waite told
Established in 1906, beginning shelter
operations in 1923, Associated Humane now
operates dog and cat shelters in Newark, Union,
Tinton Falls, and Forked River, plus the
Popcorn Park Zoo in Forked River to house
abandoned or abused exotic animals and the Animal
Haven Farm to keep domestic livestock. Two of
the Associated Humane shelters include low-cost
sterilization clinics.
The Associated Humane “Vested Interest
Fund” was the first of the many humane society
efforts to outfit police dogs with bulletproof
vests, and is still the biggest.
Associated Humane is also among the few
mainstream humane organizations to endorse
vegetarianism on the home page of their web site.

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