|Priest Makes Deal, Won't Be Retried in Groping Case; Agrees Not to Work with Children Again
By Carolyn Salazar
The Record (Bergen County, NJ)
July 17, 2007
A priest who once served in Wyckoff agreed Monday to never work with children again in exchange for avoiding a retrial on charges that he groped a teenage boy.
Michael Fugee, whose criminal sexual contact conviction in 2003 was overturned on appeal, qualified for Pretrial Intervention, a special form of probation that would leave him with no record if he follows certain conditions.
Under the terms of the agreement, Fugee, 46, will enter sexual offender therapy for at least two years and not have any unsupervised contact with children for the rest of his life.
Fugee was arrested March 21, 2001, after a 13-year-old boy accused the priest of groping him. The case went to trial, and dozens of parishioners filled the courtroom to show their support.
Fugee testified that he was simply wrestling with the boy in a playful manner. He told jurors that he admitted to the crime at Wyckoff police headquarters because he felt intimidated by investigators and wanted to go home.
The jurors convicted Fugee, but a state appellate court overturned the verdict and granted him a new trial based on a statement used by prosecutors.
The three-judge panel said the statement Fugee gave police - in which he questioned his own sexual identity - was prejudicial and shouldn't have been allowed at the trial.
Fugee, wearing a pinstriped suit, clasped his hands in front of him Monday as Superior Judge Donald R. Venezia approved the agreement. Fugee then left with a smile and didn't speak to reporters as he left the courthouse in Hackensack.
Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Newark, said Fugee remains on administrative leave until the church reviews his case. The church will hold a proceeding to determine whether Fugee violated any canon laws or procedures, Goodness said. If he's found guilty, he will no longer be authorized to be a priest, he said.
Bergen County Assistant Prosecutor Demetra Maurice said the state was back to Square One in bringing a new case after the appeals panel granted Fugee a new trial. Her office signed off on the agreement, she said, because it forbids him from ever working with children again.
The agreement states that Fugee cannot accept any duties that would require unsupervised contact with anyone under 18 years old. He can hold positions in the parish but none that would involve any dealings with children.
If he violates the agreement, which doesn't expire, Fugee would likely face criminal contempt charges.
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