STANDOFF SUSPECT HAD ‘84 GUN ARREST BY CURRENT DEMAREST CHIEF
The Record By JIM CONSOLI, Record Staff Writer
Published: October 23, 1992
The law has been something of a guardian angel for Robert Cucos.
In 1991, Demarest Police Chief James Powderley chose not to charge Cucos, now 29, after the Demarest man held the chief and a minister hostage at gunpoint.
That was not the first time that Cucos had a confrontation with police while armed.
In 1984, records show, Cucos was arrested by Powderley in Closter and charged with possession of a loaded gun. He later entered the Pretrial Intervention program, and the charge was dropped.
In his most recent encounter with the police, Cucos allegedly armed himself with three loaded guns and got involved in a standoff with Cresskill police.
He later was charged with trying to kill three officers. He is undergoing evaluation at Bergen Pines County Hospital.
Again, Powderley was directly involved: He coaxed Cucos to surrender, apparently without first consulting Cresskill police.
Powderley’s decision in 1991 not to arrest Cucos despite having arrested him in 1984 on a gun charge has raised questions for Bergen County Prosecutor John J. Fahy.
“I really would like to know why a decision was made to not charge him in 1991,” Fahy said.
When told of Powderley’s involvement in the 1984 incident, Fahy said he was not aware of it but would now review that case, too.
Fahy, who became prosecutor in 1990, has stressed that the review of the incidents involving Powderley does not constitute a formal investigation. But he has left open the possibility that such a probe could be launched if the information gathered warrants it.
Powderley declined to comment on the 1984 incident until Fahy has finished his review. But fter the Cresskill incident, Powderley criticized the court system for having let Cucos back on the streets.
In the 1991 case, Powderley allowed Cucos to seek psychiatric rehabilitation at Bergen Pines.
“Personally, I think that the court system is too lenient,” Powderley said. “This should never keep reoccurring. There should definitely be some sort of either psychiatric or criminal penalties. “ The first incident began in Orangetown, N.Y., on the night of April 6, 1984, when Cucos got into an argument with the manager of a restaurant, said Orangetown Detective Sgt. Terry Hutmacher. Cucos allegedly threatened the manager with a revolver after stating that he was Demarest Police Officer Michael Zullo and showing a phony badge, police said.
When the manager said he planned to call local police, Cucos fled.
Zullo, who now works as a private detective in North Jersey, said he was contacted at about 10:30 that night by Powderley. After realizing that Zullo wasn’t the man in the restaurant, Powderley asked Zullo to help him find the suspect.
“I remember Jimmy [Powderley] calling me and telling me to get down to headquarters immediately. It was a weekend night, and I was planning to go out,” Zullo said.
After obtaining information leading them to suspect that Cucos was involved, Powderley and Zullo started to search for Cucos in both Rockland and Bergen counties, Zullo said.
Following hours of searching, Powderley and Zullo arrested Cucos after they spotted him talking with a few other men outside a former Closter restaurant. Zullo said he searched Cucos and found a gun. The gun was found in a plastic toy holster. Cucos also had a toy police badge and handcuffs, Zullo said.
Charges of illegal possession of a weapon and receiving stolen property were filed against Cucos separately by Closter and Demarest police. But Cucos later was permitted to enter the Pretrial Intervention program.
The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office approved of Cucos entry into pretrial intervention because of his cooperation in the case against a former River Vale maintenance worker who stole the gun from that municipality’s police evidence room and sold it to Cucos, records show.
At the time, the Bergen County prosecutor, Larry J. McClure, said police were stumped in their probe of the missing gun, one of a half-dozen stolen from River Vale. But they learned, with Cucos help, that the maintenance worker had a second key to the police evidence room and was using it to steal the weapons.
The gun Cucos obtained from the man had been confiscated in 1983 during a narcotics arrest, officials said.
Zullo said he is still upset by the actions of the Prosecutor’s Office.
“I was never contacted by the Prosecutor’s Office as the arresting officer,” he said. “Cucos was found to have a gun loaded with six rounds of ammunition in it that was stolen from River Vale police. But they let him go. “
After Cucos completed the Pretrial Intervention program, the charges against him were dropped, records show.
The River Vale worker later was indicted, but he was offered a plea agreement by the Prosecutor’s Office and received two years probation, court records show.
Cucos was charged by Orangetown police with reckless endangerment, criminal possession of a weapon, and criminal impersonation of a police officer.
Those charges also were dropped, possibly because of Cucos cooperation in the River Vale theft case, and Cucos instead was charged with being a disorderly person. Cucos pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor and was fined $200 in March 1985, records show.
“I have no idea what happened in that case,” said Hutmacher, who wasn’t involved in the arrest of Cucos.
Although the Orangetown charges were indictable offenses, a spokesman for the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office said it has no record of having reviewed the case for possible presentation to a grand jury, which the circumstances would have dictated.
Copyright 1992 Bergen Record Corp.
I’m not sure what the conflict is here. It’s clear that he made an arrest so he was a police officer. That’s law enforcement, so I don’t know what the question is. Natufian, your own source confirms that Zullo has law enforcement credentials.
That also reports that he was a private detective; I’m not sure what private detectives do but I do know that Mike knows what he’s doing and he knows what kinds of evidence mean something to a court and what don’t. He’s helped me a lot, in knowing the relative value of various kinds of evidence.
Ultimately what Zullo and the others collect is presented to Arpaio, and he definitely has law enforcement credentials. So I’m just having difficulties seeing what the problem is here.
Thanks, much appreciated.