COOPERSTOWN — A Worcester kennel owner who was arrested last year on animal-cruelty charges pleaded guilty Tuesday to ripping off vendors and customers — including a group of nuns who paid him for miniature dairy cows but never got the heifers.
Frank Popolizio, 67, of Schenectady, struck a plea agreement with Otsego County District Attorney John Muehl on the second day of a trial before County Judge John Lambert.
In so doing, Popolizio, who had been raising dogs that police investigators said were emaciated and malnourished, agreed he would not own any animals for five years, Muehl said. The kennel, South Side Dogs, is an annex to South Side Farms, where Popolizio has bred miniature cows, marketing them from an Internet site.
He had been scheduled to stand trial separately on multiple misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty in connection with the treatment of the underfed dogs, many of them expensive breeds such as Weimaraners, German short-haired pointers, vizslas and Rhodesian ridgebacks. But his guilty plea to the felony grand larceny count was accepted in satisfaction of those other charges, the prosecutor said.
“I’m satisfied with the result,” Muehl told The Daily Star. “My goal was two-fold: Getting restitution for his victims and ensuring that he will not have any animals for the next five years.”
Because the agreement calls for Popolizio to be placed on probation for five years, the longest he could be prohibited from owning animals is five years, he said.
Liz Mackey, the director of the Susquehanna SPCA, said she was delighted to learn that Popolizio now stands convicted of a felony in Otsego County.
“That is fantastic news,” she said when informed of the guilty plea.
When police raided South Side Dogs in January 2012, her organization helped care for scores of dogs seized from the facility by police. The dogs would later be adopted by new owners with the assistance of various rescue organizations. But until new homes were found for them, the Susquehanna SPCA spent $85,000 caring for them — a tab Popolizio has yet to pay, Mackey said.
Also still waiting to get paid by Popolizio is Robert Pavese of Cobleskill, who said he did work on a barn at South Side Farms. One of the victims of the crimes for which Popolizio was being prosecuted, Pavese said he was pleased to learn that his former employer has been convicted of grand larceny.
“Sooner or later, it catches up,” Pavese said.
Popolizio’s lawyer, Adam Parisi of Schenectady, was not immediately available for comment.
Popolozio was convicted last year of third-degree criminal tax fraud after failing to pay state sales taxes on receipts from a now-closed restaurant he ran in Schenectady.