A devastating gambling addiction is being blamed for the actions of an executive director of a New York animal shelter, who stole well over half a million dollars from the nonprofit organization he had been entrusted to oversee.

gambling addiction SPCA animal shelter

Tragic consequences: like the animals he once had responsibility for, Paul Morgan is now behind bars for at least the next four years, after his gambling addiction fueled his theft of almost $600,000 from the New York shelter he ran. Angry volunteers and donors are outraged at his actions, saying hundreds of animals have been impacted. (Image: John Moore/Getty Images)

Paul Morgan, 46, of Salina, New York (a suburb of Syracuse), served as the executive director of the Central New York SPCA there. But he used his position to serve himself, as he stole roughly $600,000 during a six-year span to cover his gambling losses. In January, he pled guilty to the theft, and this week he was sentenced to from four to 12 years in prison.

Furious SPCA board members argued that his actions greatly reduced medical supplies for sick animals, and caused some animals to be euthanized who otherwise would not have been. Board member Carole Marsh said numerous improvement projects were also abandoned when the funds went missing.

A seemingly contrite Morgan told the court at sentencing that he was “. . . sorry for the mistakes that I have made. This is an organization that I will always love and care for, and I apologize.”

Paul Morgan SPCA director sentenced

Disgraced SPCA director Paul Morgan stands with his attorney at sentencing on Wednesday in a New York State county courthouse. A judge was less than moved by Morgan’s explanations for his actions. (Image: Dennis Nett/Syracuse.com)

County Court Judge Stephen Dougherty wasn’t convinced. He maintained that Morgan was using gambling addiction as an excuse for his financial crimes.

Two others had been previously charged, but had their sentencing hearings delayed until Morgan came in front of the court for his.

Former veterinary technician Taylor Gilkey, who allegedly had a romantic relationship with Morgan, admitted to stealing $249,000 from the shelter as well. She could be sentenced to from 2 1/3 years and up to seven years in prison in a matter of days.

A third employee, Nicole Cafarchio, an administrative worker, stole $62,000 and will likely receive five years’ probation at her sentencing in the coming days.

Both women face relatively light punishment, after agreeing to cooperate with the prosecution in Morgan’s case.

According to CNY SPCA’s nonprofit tax filing, Morgan was paid $118,118 in 2014. That’s a robust salary compared to many other nonprofit animal groups, particularly in less-than-enormous metropolitan areas.

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Morgan’s defense attorney Edward Menkin argued that his client’s actions deserve compassion, and asked the judge to be lenient on Morgan, saying his client’s actions didn’t directly harm humans, after all.

“I’m very dubious about the judgment of people who have greater compassion for animals than they do for other human beings,” Menkin appealed. “It’s a request for both compassion and understanding of human behavior, and what leads a person to engage in this behavior.”

It doesn’t appear this argument held water with the judge, who told Menkin that he was “not going to join in blaming the victim” at Morgan’s sentencing.

Industry Supports Programs to Fight Addiction

The New York SPCA case puts the topic of problem gambling back in the news, and whether adequate treatment programs are being funded and made available to those prone to becoming dependent on betting.

As Congress considers overhauling the nation’s health care system, the casino industry is urging lawmakers to retain problem gambling’s current classification of a mental disorder. The Affordable Care Act included gaming addiction as an “essential health benefit” and mandated that insurance companies cover treatment.

The National Council on Problem Gambling is the leading lobbying firm in the US advocating for the advancement of nationwide and state treatment programs to reduce the economic and social cost of gambling addictions.

Of course, that still puts the impetus for using those services squarely on the shoulders of those addicted, a sticking point that is often overlooked by those who think there are any easy answers to the issue of the impact on society as a whole, let alone those specifically affected by any one addict’s dire actions.