HAMILTON (Mercer) — Animal cruelty charges have been filed against two men, stemming from what authorities say was the illegal killing of more than 300 cats and dogs at a local shelter over a more than two-year span.

Between 2016 and 2018, 236 cats and 93 dogs were illegally euthanized at the Hamilton Animal Shelter before the seven day "grace period" required by state law for each animal to be held or offered up for adoption, according to the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office.

Jeffrey Plunkett, 62, of Hamilton, the township's Director of Health, Recreation, Senior and Veterans Services and Todd Bencivengo, 56, of North Hanover, the former supervisor of the animal shelter, each face two counts of animal cruelty and one count of official misconduct.

The "on demand" euthanizing of animals at the Hamilton shelter was first documented in a state Department of Health inspection report in July 2018. The inspection also found unclean conditions and improper storage and use of medications, some of which had expired years earlier.

As first reported by The Trentonian, Bencivengo received nearly $31,000 in severance pay when he retired in March. His monthly pension allowance is $4,596, according to state Treasury Department records.

Hamilton Township Mayor, Kelly Yaede, posted a response to the charges on her personal Facebook page, where she said "Leaders go to where the problems are. This administration did exactly that and transformed our animal shelter into a world-class facility that is today and every day forward achieving it’s solemn mission to care for animals."

Yaede also accused the state of handling the Hamilton case more stringently than others as the animal shelter has a hotbed of partisan politics.

The mostly Democratic Township Council had called into question the shelter’s practices before the state inspection, while the Republican mayor has defended the shelter’s management and accused councilmen and more recently, the Democratic Governor's administration, of playing politics with the shelter.

— with previous reporting by Sergio Bichao

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