RCBJ-Audible (Listen For Free)
Rockland County District Attorney’s Office Indicts Debbie DiBernardo On Criminal Charges
By Tina Traster
Debbie DiBernardo, President of Hi-Tor Animal Care Center Inc, has been indicted on multiple charges of falsifying records, according to Rockland County District Attorney Thomas E. Walsh II, following a months-long investigation by the District Attorney’s Office Special Investigations Unit after allegedly receiving tips from the public.
“Debbie DiBernardo, 51, was indicted by a Rockland County Grand Jury for offering a false instrument for filing in the 1st Degree and 17 counts of falsifying business records in the 2nd Degree (17 Counts),” according to a press release issued late today.
The indictment said, “On June 25, 2020, Debbie DiBernardo, in her role as President of Hi-Tor Animal Care Center Inc., directed the false entry of animal records into the business records of Hi Tor Animal Care Inc, related to the intake of seventeen animals at Hi-Tor Animal Shelter facility.”
Further, the indictment said, “On July 1st, 2020, as part of her submission of animal documentation to Rockland County Department of Health, as required by the County contract, the defendant filed an animal intake voucher containing false information.”
Hi -Tor has long been plagued by difficulties, given that it’s been operating out of an outdated 1972 facility for almost 50 years and attempts to get the shelter rebuilt have lagged for nearly a decade. Now, with funding secured and plans designed, the long-awaited $8 million shelter is ready for construction on the same county-owned site.
In August, the District Attorney’s Office executed a search warrant. Insiders had said the DA’s office had taken computers and document files but did not investigate the state of the animals. There are currently more than 250 animals on site. The warrant said the DA’s office is investigating “any and all records of Hi Tor, files, documents, agreements, contracts, financial records, employees’ records, bank documents, account statements, checks, tax docs, tax forms, 1099s, 501c3, notes, correspondence.”
At the time, DiBernardo said she was cooperating with the DA’s office.
The Hi-Tor Animal Shelter is located in Pomona, NY and was founded in 1973. The shelter annually takes in approximately 2,000 animals, consisting of mainly cats and dogs, but also including small animals such as rabbits and birds.
“This indictment is a culmination of an extensive investigation into the Hi-Tor Animal Shelter as a result of public concern,” said Walsh. “Many of us have dogs and cats as pets, that become loved members of our families. It is a sad day for Rockland County when an individual who is entrusted with overseeing shelter operations and providing vital services to animals in desperate need stands accused of violating the public’s trust.”
Hi-Tor is a private nonprofit that has been funded in part by donations but also relies on contributions by the county via town contracts.
In February 2021, the Town of Orangetown terminated its agreement with the County’s no-kill animal shelter though it agreed to pay nearly $40,000 for its 2020 contract. Dissatisfied with Hi Tor, the town has signed an agreement with the Hudson Valley Humane Society to handle its stray dogs. For cats, the town kicks in $40 and residents pay $30 for spay/neuter. However, Orangetown pays 100 percent for ferals to be fixed. “Per our records, we had 22 vouchers for companion cats and 13 vouchers for community cats,” said Town Supervisor Teresa Kenny.
Efforts have been underway to bring Hi-Tor under the auspices of Rockland Green.
Haverstraw Supervisor Howard Phillips, who is Board Chairman of the Rockland County Solid Waste Management Authority, now known as Rockland Green, has said the authority has taken steps to bring Hi Tor under its control. Rockland Green has proposed a resolution proposing a local law to “expand the Authority’s purposes, power and responsibilities to include animal management services, including providing services and operating facilities to protect and promote animal care and to protect public health and safety, including those in connection with the processing and disposal of animal waste; the disposal of dead wildlife removed from roadways following wildlife-vehicle collisions; the sheltering of stray, lost, abandoned or surrendered animals; providing animal control; and any other similar services.”
The County legislature has received a copy of the resolution from Rockland Green but it has not moved into a committee for a discussion or a vote.
“We’re working with all the supervisors, including Orangetown, to find a long-term solution,” Phillips has said. “That solution may involve Rockland Green.”
DiBernardo was arraigned in Rockland County Court Thursday by the Honorable Judge Larry J. Schwartz and released on her own recognizance. She will return to court on January 18, 2022. The case is being prosecuted by Senior Assistant District Attorney George Del Fierro.