The Saddle Brook police chief allegedly ordered officers on duty under his command to provide police escorts for processions leaving his private business – a funeral home in the community – the New Jersey attorney general said Monday.
State authorities accused 59-year-old Robert Kugler of Saddle Brook of conspiracy, official misconduct and corruption of public resources in allegedly instructing non-commissioned officers to conduct the processions between January 2019 and August 2020, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement.
Police escorts are illegal in Saddle Brook unless they serve local government or nonprofit organizations, Grewal said. But Kugler had officers escorting processions to cemeteries inside and outside parish lines during their regular shifts, Grewal said.
The attorney general added that the Kugler funeral home did not reimburse the city for the costs. Kugler faces a prison sentence of up to 20 years and a fine of at least $ 150,000 if convicted.
John Bruno, Kugler’s lawyer in Rutherford, said the boss was “shocked and outraged” by the allegations.
“The boss wants to defend himself vigorously against these allegations and is looking forward to clearing his name,” said Bruno. “He’s innocent of all charges … he never cheated the city for a minute, and he never abused his authority.”
The Bergen District Attorney’s Office has taken control of the division’s ongoing operations, although it is not clear whether Saddle Brook officials have already suspended Kugler.
Robert Anzilotti, the prosecutor’s chief detective, will head the department for the time being, a spokeswoman said.
Neither Kugler nor the township mayor Bob White responded to requests for comment on Monday. A woman who answered the phone at the Kugler Funeral Home on Monday afternoon said the boss was not there.
Kugler has been an integral part of the city for decades. According to his website, his family has owned the funeral home on 5th Street since 1963, and the boss has been running the Saddle Brook division since 1995.
He was also widely viewed as the Republican Party’s front runner to challenge incumbent Democrat Anthony Cureton in the Bergen County Sheriff’s Race this fall.
Kugler ran for independent sheriff three years ago after former sheriff Michael Saudino abruptly resigned after the release of a tape on which Saudino made racist and homophobic comments earlier this year.
But Cureton won handily, defeating four other candidates, including Kugler.
Bruno, the chief’s attorney, said Kugler believed the timing of the indictment was “odd, given the upcoming elections.”
The allegations could actually influence Kugler’s candidacy – Bruno said Kugler would now “reconsider all options and do what is right for himself and the party”.
Steve Janoski is the law enforcement officer at NorthJersey.com. For full access to the most important news about those protecting your local community, subscribe or activate your digital account today.