Priest's Sex Charges Need Details
Judge Tellsprosecution to Get Information

By Paulo Lima
The Record [Bergen County NJ]
March 20, 2002

A judge in Hackensack on Tuesday told prosecutors they would have to provide more details of allegations that a Catholic priest repeatedly fondled an adolescent parishioner before he would allow the case to go forward.

Prosecutors say the Rev. Michael Fugee, 41, groped a Wyckoff boy "six or seven times" while wrestling with him inside the youth's home.

At the time, Fugee was assigned to St. Elizabeth Roman Catholic Church in Wyckoff and had befriended the boy's mother, they said.

Fugee's lawyer had filed a motion seeking to dismiss a four-count indictment charging the priest with sexual assault, aggravated sexual contact, and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child. Superior Court Judge William C. Meehan denied the request but agreed that the defense was entitled to more information than is contained in the vaguely worded indictment.

"The victim's statement is completely lacking any date information," Meehan said. "This is not some young child. There's no reason why a 15-year-old boy can't tell us dates. " The indictment alleges that Fugee touched the boy's crotch between Jan. 1, 1997, and March 19, 2001, the day he was arrested. The boy, identified in the indictment only by his initials, was between 10 and 14 years old between those dates.

Meehan ordered the state to provide dates, or at least seasons, when the alleged abuse took place. He also required prosecutors to specify the locations and the names of anybody else who may have been present.

Bergen County Assistant Prosecutor Maria Rockfol said she did not anticipate any problem complying with the judge's order.

The timeline is critical to the most serious count in the indictment, sexual assault.

Fugee is charged with a second-degree offense, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, because some of the incidents allegedly occurred before the boy's 13th birthday. The boy turned 13 on March 31, 1999.

The indictment gives a more than four year-window of when abuse allegedly took place, although the boy told investigators he had known Fugee "about two years," said his attorney, Brian Neary.

In urging the judge to dismiss the indictment, Neary provided a glimpse into the state's case against his client.

In his statement to detectives, the boy alleged that Fugee grabbed his crotch and that others were always in the room during the wrestling matches, he said.

"If such events took place that were sexual in nature, they weren't in some dark corner, but in full view of his family members," Neary said. "That doesn't sound like sexual assault to me. " Still quoting the boy's statement, Neary said the boy told detectives that some of the touching may have been unintentional and that he did not think Fugee had "fondled" him -- prompting the attorney to accuse prosecutors of presenting a biased case to grand jurors.

Rockfol countered that the boy also told detectives the wrestling matches made him so uncomfortable that he began shutting himself in his room whenever Fugee visited the house.

"He was afraid of him because he did not want his crotch to be grabbed," Rockfol said.

In his own statement to detectives, Rockfol told the judge, Fugee admitted that he derived sexual gratification from grabbing the boy's crotch.

Ordained in 1994, Fugee has been on administrative leave since his arrest, which means he is not working in any capacity within the Archdiocese of Newark, said spokesman James Goodness.

Goodness said the arrest was the first time the archdiocese had learned of any alleged sexual misconduct by Fugee.

Rockfol had sought to subpoena Fugee's personnel records in search of prior complaints or disciplinary actions. Rockfol said that Fugee told detectives he had attended some sort of group therapy sessions, which prosecutors believed related to sexually inappropriate behavior.

On Tuesday, Neary produced a letter from the archdiocese asserting that it had reviewed Fugee's personnel file and found no previous sex-related complaints.


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