WESTON -- A man who police say is responsible for 224 neglected and dead exotic animals found in a Weston home appeared in court Monday. Court documents describe in detail the horrific scene investigators discovered back in September.
Daniel Kopulos is charged with cruelty to animals, and faces up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine if he is found guilty. He was released on a promise to appear in court October 24, when additional charges could be added due to the number of animals involved in the suspected abuse.
FOX 61 has learned that Kopulos, who owned the house and barn where the animals were found, is the executive director for Animal Preservation Alliance and was also the founding owner of Fauna NYC, a former exotic animal shop on the Upper West Side of Manhattan that shut its doors.
The Animal Preservation Alliance is a nonprofit started to prevent cruelty to animals and ensure their welfare and protection. It got its tax exempt status in New York one year ago. There is no active website for the organization, and it appears the Facebook page has been taken down.
When the animals were discovered September 16, investigators called it one of the worst cases they'd ever seen. Animal Control responded to the home after reports from neighbors of a foul smell emanating from the home and barn. They found dozens of animals, both loose and in cages. There was food, fecal matter, garbage, and debris piled from floor to ceiling, court documents show.
"I couldn't describe the way this smells if I tried," said FOX 61 reporter Jenna DeAngelis, who visited the scene as investigators removed the animals.
They contacted the owner, who gave permission for officers to enter a barn behind the home. More than 100 exotic birds, some dead and some alive, were found in deplorable conditions, and more than 100 more animals--birds, snakes and other reptiles--were found in the house. Both living and dead animals were in the same cages.
Despite the exotic nature of the animals, Kopulos' possession of them appeared to be legal.
"Our Environmental Conservation Officers determined none of dead or live animals there were in violation of regulations concerning possession of exotic or dangerous animals. Our Emergency Response Team did assist in cleanup of site and removal of living animals, that were taken by a facility that is able to care for them," said Dennis Schain, communications director of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
Weston Emergency Management Director Joseph Miceli said in September, “There were, I would say, dozens of animals between the reptiles and birds that we did find deceased and in various stages of decomposition.”
The animals, most of which were held in a barn behind the home, were brought to different places, including the Rain forest Reptiles in Massachusetts and Rhode Island Parrot Rescue. Veterinarians from the South Wilton Veterinary Group examined the birds before they were transported.
Weston Police Department Sg. Patrick Daubert said, “All of the people that have been assisting us today, have never seen anything of this magnitude. It’s quite shocking.”
Kopulos' case was continued to Nov. 30. Neither he nor his attorney, Michael Fitzpatrick, offered a comment leaving the courthouse Monday. Police say they have still not questioned Kopulos about how long the birds and reptiles may have been left unattended.
According to the arrest warrant affidavit, an animal expert said "it's likely these horrific conditions took months and months of neglect." But, some neighbors knew Kopulos and his former partner differently.
"I knew that Mark (Kopulos' partner) was a vet and Daniel had a pet store and they told stories about their crazy rooster and they had a tortoise that they've had for years," said Phoebe Cole-Smith, a neighbor, who said she never noticed anything out of the ordinary about the property, including the smell.
"We have since found that he lost the lease on his pet store and he obviously brought the animals home hoping to get another location," said Mike Smith, another neighbor. "Daniel really cared about animals. And our sense was just he must've just gotten overwhelmed."
More than 200 surviving animals are being cared for in Massachusetts and Rhode Island for the time being. The, sources say, is roughly $500 per day, which Kopulos will be liable for.