Cop Says Priest Changed His Story
Judge Won't Bar Remarks in Sex Case
By Peter Pochna
The Record [Bergen County NJ]
December 11, 2002
A Wyckoff priest initially denied molesting a teenage boy in his parish but then changed his story, a police investigator testified Tuesday.
After 90 minutes of questioning at the Wyckoff Police Department, the Rev. Michael Fugee "admitted to separate incidents in which he intentionally touched [the boy's] crotch over his clothes," said Detective John Haviland of the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office. "He described it as an urge."
Defense attorney Brian Neary said investigators intimidated Fugee into making the statement, violating his Miranda rights. Neary asked Superior Court Judge Donald Venezia in Hackensack to block prosecutors from using the March 2001 interview against his client.
But Venezia rejected the argument, ruling that police obtained the information during a legitimate interview.
"I don't think the questioning was coercive," the judge said. "I think the defendant and the detective had a rapport. ... I find it was totally voluntary."
Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Demetria Maurice said Fugee himself approved of the interview when he was asked at the end whether he had been treated fairly.
"Yes, definitely," the priest replied, according to Maurice.
"What we are talking about is a man who started telling a story hoping police would believe him, and it didn't work," the prosecutor told Venezia.
Authorities say Fugee, 42, groped the Wyckoff boy, who was then 13, in the spring of 1999 and again in the summer of 2000, both times at the boy's home. He is charged with third-degree sex offenses punishable by up to five years in prison.
At the time, Fugee was assigned to the Roman Catholic Church of St. Elizabeth in Wyckoff. He has since been placed on administrative leave and is free on $10,000 bail. The Archdiocese of Newark has said that Fugee's arrest was the first time it had learned of any alleged sexual misconduct by Fugee.
The priest attended Tuesday's hearing wearing his collar, took frequent notes, and occasionally shook his head as if disputing Haviland's version of events.
Haviland described Fugee as "cooperative" throughout the interview that began around 8 p.m. March 19, 2001, when Haviland and two other investigators visited the church and asked him to come with them to the police station. Haviland said he had talked to the boy earlier in the day.
Fugee initially said he had been wrestling with the boy in "horseplay" and that the touching was unintentional, Haviland testified.
But after Haviland said he did not believe him, Fugee "said he would tell the truth," the detective told the judge. Fugee then described some sexual issues he had struggled to confront, Haviland said.
"I was a little stunned by what he said," the detective said.
The priest went on to say that the action of touching the boy excited him, Haviland said.
Neary has argued that authorities have blown the incident way out of proportion. Despite Venezia's ruling, he said, he intends to take the case to trial.
"I'm confident we'll be found not guilty," Neary said.
The case is scheduled for a status conference Jan. 21 and could go to trial in spring.
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