A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced former Bordentown Township Police Chief Frank Nucera Jr. to 28 months in prison for lying to the FBI investigating his hate-crime case, saying he has “a lifetime status as a convicted felon, a racist, a liar.”
Nucera, 64, the longtime police chief in the predominantly white community just south of Trenton, appeared to show no emotion as he stood next to his attorney, Rocco Cipparone, who pleaded for leniency. Cipparone argued that Nucera had otherwise had ”a well-lived life.”
U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler said he wanted to send a strong message to police officers and the public that such misconduct as found in the Nucera case would not be tolerated. He noted: “Unfortunately, I can’t change his heart.”
”The general public has suffered,” Kugler said. “His words and his deeds caused great harm to the public perception of the criminal justice system.”
A jury in October 2019 convicted Nucera of lying when he told the FBI he did not strike a handcuffed Black teenage suspect at a Bordentown hotel in 2016. The jury was deadlocked on two more serious hate-crime charges and a mistrial was declared.
Kugler noted that the verdict showed that the jury believed Nucera violated the teen’s civil rights and shoved his head against a door jamb. Officers said the suspect was not resisting.
”His motivation was racism,” the judge said.
Authorities said Nucera had a history of making derogatory remarks about Blacks, speaking about unleashing police dogs on spectators at high school football games and about joining a firing squad to mow them down, and comparing them to ISIS. Fellow officers secretly made 81 recordings of Nucera using racial slurs, breaking the “blue wall of silence.”
In a recording played during his three-week trial, Nucera could be heard saying, “It’s gonna get to the point where I could shoot one of these [expletives].”
In another recording commenting on the 2016 election, Nucera lauded former President Donald Trump as “the great hope for white people.” He said Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would “give in to all the minorities.”
Nucera faced 10 to 16 months in prison on the lying charge, under federal sentencing guidelines. The judge had the discretion to consider special circumstances and found that jail time was warranted. Kugler also sentenced Nucera to two years’ supervised release.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Lorber asked Kugler to impose between 46 and 57 months, saying the circumstances warranted a higher sentence because Nucera was a police chief at the time.
In his sentencing memorandum, Cipparone asked Kugler for leniency, saying the racist statements Nucera made were “a snap shot in time” and out of character. He requested one year’s probation.
Kugler said he was moved by an outpouring of support for Nucera, but said the case warranted prison time. The judge said Nucera’s reputation was well-known and it was incomprehensible that Nucera rose to the rank of chief.
”He has now lost everything,” Kugler said. “His family has been destroyed because of what he did.”
Nucera, a 34-year law enforcement veteran, has been stripped of his $7,400-a-month pension and depends on his wife’s income and money from relatives, Cipparone said. He previously was a township administrator and Air Force service member, he said.
”Publicly and privately, he was always a gentleman,” said longtime friend Norman Hand, a retired Bordentown Township police captain. “He is not perfect. I don’t believe any of us are.”
Kugler also heard an emotional plea from Nucera’s daughter Christine. His wife, Leslie, and son Frank III, a Bordentown Township police lieutenant, sat in the courtroom.
”My father loved Bordentown,” the daughter said. “His love was nothing but pure and genuine.”
Nucera opted against making a statement prior to the sentencing, on the advice of his attorney because of pending charges. His daughter said Nucera would accept his punishment “gracefully.”
Nucera faces a retrial on two remaining counts of hate-crime assault and deprivation of civil rights after the jury was deadlocked during the first trial. He could face up to 10 years in prison on each count, if convicted. A date has not been set. Nucera remains free on bond pending resolution of that case.
Experts said at the time that the case was unique because Nucera was implicated by rank-and-file officers. The officers said Nucera had a bad temper and retaliated against anyone who challenged him. Cipparone contended the officers didn’t like Nucera and wanted him out. Among those who testified against Nucera was his second-in-command, who succeeded him as chief.
Nucera resigned from dual positions as chief and township administrator in January 2017 after learning the FBI was investigating.