The Saddle Brook Police Chief has reportedly ordered duty officers under his command to provide police escorts for processions leaving his private business — a township funeral home — the New Jersey attorney general announced Monday.
State authorities have charged Robert Kugler, 59, of Saddle Brook with conspiracy, official misconduct and bribery of public resources for allegedly ordering junior officers to work on motorcades between Jan. August 14, 2020, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement.
Police escorts are illegal in Saddle Brook unless they are for municipal government purposes or non-profit organizations, Grewal said. But Kugler had officers escorting processions to cemeteries inside and outside township boundaries during their regular shifts, Grewal said.
The Kugler Community Home for Funerals did not reimburse the city for the expenses, the attorney general added.
Kugler faces up to 20 years in prison and fines of at least $150,000 if convicted. He is due to appear in state Superior Court in Hackensack on March 15, according to the complaint.
John Bruno, Kugler’s lawyer in Rutherford, said the chief was “shocked and outraged” by the allegations.
“The Chief intends to vigorously defend himself against these charges and looks forward to clearing his name,” Bruno said. “He is innocent of all charges…he never cheated the city for a minute and he never abused his authority.”
Saddle Brook Mayor Bob White said the township suspended Kugler and the Bergen County District Attorney’s Office took control of the police department’s day-to-day operations.
The city council will likely decide this week whether the leader is suspended with or without pay, White said.
A former township police officer who served as Kugler’s deputy chief for 11 years, White said he was “shocked by the seriousness of the charges.”
“Bob Kugler has been a chef for a long time. He’s always done a great job,” White said. “We’ve been doing funeral escorts on a regular basis for as long as I can remember…and not just for one particular funeral home. We’ll do it for any funeral home that asks. was a waste of resources.”
Kugler did not respond to a request for comment on Monday. A woman who answered the phone Monday afternoon at Kugler’s funeral home said the chief was not there.
Robert Anzilotti, the district attorney’s chief of detectives, will lead the department for the time being, a spokeswoman for the office said.
Kugler has been a staple in the city for decades. His family has owned the Fifth Street Funeral Home since 1963, according to its website, and the chief has run the Saddle Brook department since 1995.
He was also widely considered the Republican Party’s favorite to challenge incumbent Democrat Anthony Cureton this fall in the Bergen County sheriff’s race.
Kugler ran for sheriff as an independent three years ago after former sheriff Michael Saudino abruptly resigned following the release of a tape in which Saudino made racist and homophobic comments earlier that year.
But Cureton won hands down, beating four other contestants, including Kugler.
Bruno, the chief’s attorney, said Kugler felt the timing of the charges was “curious given the upcoming election.”
The allegations could indeed affect Kugler’s candidacy – Bruno said Kugler will now “reconsider all options and do what is right for him and for the party”.
Steve Janoski covers law enforcement for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from those protecting your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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