(Published in The Press of Atlantic City on Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009.)
Andrea Cappellucci had heard so many outlandish stories from the person she knew as veterinarian Danielle Smith that she knew something wasn’t right.
It just didn’t seem believable that, in one six-month period, one person could see her mother and husband die, her house burn down and that she could get carjacked, fight cancer and buy a new Ford Explorer — only to see the drive shaft fall out on the Garden State Parkway.
Once Cappellucci began investigating the person she had first hired as a vet and later befriended, she suspected Danielle Smith might not really be a veterinarian. But Cappellucci never suspected that Smith wasn’t a woman.
Authorities say Danielle Smith actually is Daniel C. Tyce, 26, an ex-convict released from South Woods State Prison in 2006 after serving three years for credit card fraud. Tyce now sits in Cumberland County Jail on $10,000 bail after being charged with practicing medicine without a license. Police continue to investigate and could bring more charges, such as theft by deception, Vineland police Lt. Tom Ulrich said Wednesday.
Tyce ran South Jersey Small Animal Rescue, vaccinating animals, prescribing medicines and taking animals to set up adoptions in exchange for fees.
Cappellucci now suspects Tyce may have sold the animals to raise money for estrogen treatments and an eventual sex change operation to become a woman.
“She is very good when she talks,” said Cappellucci, a 46-year-old Vineland resident. “She is very eloquent when she talks. She is very sure of herself. She does know about animals. She does know about medicine.”
Tyce and an assistant, now believed to be fellow former South Woods inmate, registered sex offender and boyfriend Sam Smith, drove around in a white Jeep Cherokee with “Animal Cruelty Investigations” written on the side. They wore police-style uniforms with badges, according to Vineland police.
Business cards show Tyce operated in Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, Ocean and Salem counties, and police believe Tyce may have worked in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York as well. It appears that Tyce worked out of a string of homes in Atlantic City, Cape May and Lower Township.
South Jersey Small Animal Rescue’s Web site claims Danielle Smith graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and has a doctorate in veterinary medicine. Police say Tyce has no such degrees or a veterinary license.
Still, Tyce successfully prescribed drugs for Cappellucci’s pets and may have done so for other clients. Cappellucci said she obtained Metoclopramide and Proxicam at a local Wal-Mart pharmacy, and she still has the containers to prove it.
Tyce obtained much of South Jersey Small Animal Rescue’s business through a Web site, http://sjsar.webs.com, and by advertising on PetFinder.com and craigslist, Cappellucci said. The Web site requests donations to help support animals in Tyce’s care and lists animal adoption fees ranging from $5 to $800.
Despite standing more than 6 feet tall and weighing about 200 pounds, Tyce consistently passed as a woman. Tyce has hairless arms and a hairless face, and claimed to have had a double mastectomy, Cappellucci said. In a November 2007 interview with the Upper Township Gazette, Tyce was identified as “Danielle Tyce” and claimed to have a husband, Sam.
A phone call to South Jersey Small Animal Rescue was not returned.
Vineland police began investigating Tyce after Cappellucci approached them in December. By then, Cappellucci had determined Tyce was a fraud and needed authorities’ help.
Cappellucci said she had already had one pet, a small Australian marsupial known as a sugar glider, die under Tyce’s supervision, and Tyce supposedly found a new home for Cappellucci’s second sugar glider. Now Cappellucci is not so sure the second was ever adopted.
Authorities arrested Tyce on an unrelated charge last week. Tyce was due to be released, but Vineland police then charged Tyce with running an illegal medical practice Friday.
Police also are investigating Sam Smith, who is listed on South Jersey Small Animal Rescue’s Web site as a veterinary aide, but have not charged him.
Authorities ask that anyone with information about Tyce or South Jersey Small Animal Rescue contact Detective John Winquist at 856-691-4111, ext. 4316, or their local police department.
Cappellucci particularly pleaded for people who did business with Tyce to contact authorities. She believes Tyce may have defrauded others and may have personal checks and credit information that could be used to steal their identities.
“My thing is I just want people to come forward,” Cappellucci said. “I can’t do this on my own.”