The state is moving to close the Yonkers Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for allegedly giving "peace officer" status to at least 16 people and allowing them to carry guns without providing any service to the community.
Peace officer status grants people the power to make warrant-less arrests, use deadly physical force in making an arrest, conduct warrant-less searches whenever such searches are constitutionally permissible, as well as to seize firearms.
But Attorney General Cuomo’s office obtained an order permanently shutting down the Yonkers SPCA, saying it hasn't carried out its duties in decades.
Instead, all services have been carried out by the Westchester SPCA, the attorney general's office said in a statement.
The order to shut the Yonkers office down is the result of a lawsuit filed in 2009 and forwards any remaining assets of the Yonkers SPCA to a legitimate organization that prevents animal abuse, the statement said.
"The individuals behind the Yonkers SPCA took advantage of a nationally renowned non-profit to masquerade as a law enforcement entity with no responsibilities or oversight," said Attorney General Cuomo.
It's unclear why it has taken so long to review the work of the Yonkers SPCA, but a series of violations have been piling up.
According to court documents, one peace officer, Robert Castro, 34, was reprimanded by the Yonkers SPCA in early 2009 for brandishing his firearm at one of its peace officer training programs in a reckless manner while under the influence of alcohol.
John Mahoney, the group's lawyer and former president, bristled at the suggestion that its members joined simply because they liked the idea of carrying a badge and a gun.
"They got together because they wanted to do something for animals ... This is not a bunch of guys that needed gun permits," he said. A majority of the group's members were already licensed to carry a handgun when they joined, he said.
Mahoney said the group's original idea was to form a task force that would infiltrate criminal dogfighting gangs.
He acknowledged that the society hadn't conducted any law enforcement operations, but he said that was due to bureaucratic and legal problems that would have been resolved over time.
Under New York law, animal protection societies are given the power to appoint peace officers who have many of the same
authorities as municipal police.