Saddle Brook, NJ – New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on Monday announced multiple charges against the Saddle Brook police chief for using on-duty officers to provide escorts for clients of his funeral home business and said the local prosecutor’s office had taken over the police department.
Grewal said the investigation began after 59-year-old Saddle Brook Police Chief Robert Kugler ordered subordinate officers to work funeral processions between January of 2019 and August of 2020, NorthJersey.com reported.
The attorney general said Chief Kugler was having officers escort funerals inside and outside the town limits while they were on duty.
He said that in Saddle Brook, police escorts are only permitted for municipal government purposes and nonprofit organizations, NorthJersey.com reported.
Grewal said the police chief’s company – The Kugler Funeral Home – did not reimburse the city for the officers’ time spent working funerals.
The attorney general charged Chief Kugler with conspiracy, official misconduct and corruption of public resources, NorthJersey.com reported.
If the chief is convicted, those charges carry up to 20 years in prison and up to $150,000 in fines.
Chief Kugler was issued a summons but a hearing date has not yet been set, according to the Daily Voice.
Grewal said the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office has seized temporary control of the police department and its day-to-day operations, NorthJersey.com reported.
Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office Chief of Detectives Robert Anzilotti will lead the Saddle Brook police department in the interim, according to a spokeswoman for the county prosecutor.
Chief Kugler has been suspended without pay by the town council pending the outcome of the charges against him, the Daily Voice reported.
The chief has run the Saddle Brook Police Department since 1995, and was an officer there for 10 years before that.
His family’s funeral home has been in business since 1963, NorthJersey.com reported.
The police chief is widely considered to be the GOP frontrunner for Bergen County sheriff in the fall of 2021.
He ran for sheriff of Bergen County in 2018 as an independent and lost in a special election to replace the former sheriff who had resigned in disgrace after racist and homophobic comments he had made surfaced.
Chief Kugler’s attorney, John Bruno, said the long-time top cop was “shocked and outraged” by the allegations of criminal wrongdoing, NorthJersey.com reported.
“The chief intends to defend against these charges vigorously and looks forward to clearing his name,” Bruno said. “He’s innocent of all charges… he has never cheated the town out of a minute and he has never abused his authority.”
The attorney pointed out the timing of the charges in the runoff to the election for sheriff, NorthJersey.com reported.
He called the charges “curious given the upcoming election.”
Bruno said that given the current charges, the police chief would “reconsider all options and do what’s right for himself and the party,” NorthJersey.com reported.
Grewal said that Chief Kugler had been charged as part of an investigation by the New Jersey State Police Official Corruption Bureau and the OPIA Corruption Bureau, according to the Daily Voice.
He also announced that New Jersey Deputy Attorney General Eric C. Cohen would prosecute the case for the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA).