Robert Kugler, the Saddle Brook police chief who lost a bid for Bergen County Sheriff in 2021 after being indicted on corruption charges, was vindicated today after a Superior Court Judge dismissed an indictment against him.
Judge Marilyn Clark dismissed the indictment after finding that Kugler didn’t violate any law by permitting police escorts for funeral processions to cemeteries involving a local funeral home he owns.
Deputy Attorney General Eric Cohen, who prosecuted Kugler for the Office of Public Integrity and Accountibility (OPIA), left out key information that might have benefited the suspended police chief, to the grand jury that indicted him, Clark said.
“Presenting evidence in fair context, and presenting material exculpatory evidence is certainly required,” Clark said in her ruling.
The exoneration will allow Kugler to regain his police chief post – he was suspended last year after his indictment – and possibly receive back pay and reimbursement for his legal fees.
The attorney general’s office issued a press release in March 2021 when they announced they had charged Kugler but made no public comment today. A spokesperson for the office did not immediately respond to a 6:14 PM email, but said at 10:17 PM that they had no comment.
John Bruno, a top criminal defense attorney who represented Kugler, said that the “chief and his family are grateful and relieved with the court’s recent decision dismissing the indictment.”
“Judge Clark meticulously analyzed every issue in the defense’s motion, made precise findings and outlined with specificity all of the deficiencies in the indictment and grand jury presentation,” Bruno told the New Jersey Globe. “She should be commended.
Bruno said that he and Kugler had hoped to be “afforded the opportunity to have another set of eyes reassess the merits” of the allegation.
“The chief looks forward to having his named cleared permanently and looks forward to being reinstated.”
This is the latest in a series of black marks against the OPIA. In July, a judge found that Deputy Attorney General John Nicodemo withheld evidence in the prosecution of a Lakewood rabbi.
A lawyer for Eisemann, Lee Vartan, sought a new trial after discovering Nicodemo and the state attorney general’s office sat on evidence they were required to provide to the defense, a violation of the Brady Rule that requires exculpatory evidence to be turned over.
“Here we go again,” said State Sen. Joseph Cryan (D-Union) in a tweet. “Cheating here again by AG office just like the Lakewood rabbi. When does AG office show some integrity?”
Prosecutors alleged that the Kugler Funeral Home did not reimburse he municipality for any costs incurred and said the use of police was in violation of a township ordinance.
Despite the criminal allegations made against him, Bergen County Republicans stuck with Kugler.
He defeated Harry Shortway, Jr., the 82-year-old Midland Park mayor at the party convention by a vote of 269-98, 73%-27%. In the primary, he defeated Shortway by an 82%-18% margin.
The indictment didn’t stop Kugler from mounting a strong challenge against the incumbent, Democrat Anthony Cureton. He lost by a 54%-46% margin.
Kugler mounted a campaign for the Democratic nomination for sheriff after Michael Saudino resigned in 2018 but lost the convention by a wide margin to Cureton. He ran as an independent, winning 13,203 votes (4%) countywide.
He became a Republican in 2019.
This story was updated at 10:32 PM.