Former Bordentown Township Police Chief Frank Nucera Jr., convicted of lying to the FBI about beating a Black teenager in a hate-crime assault case, “has truly lived a life of doing good” and deserves leniency and not prison time, his attorney contends.
In court documents obtained by The Inquirer, defense attorney Rocco Cipparone Jr. asked U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler to sentence Nucera to a year’s probation. Nucera was scheduled to be sentenced May 26, but Cipparone filed a motion Tuesday to delay the proceeding because Nucera suffers from ongoing health problems, including complications from COVID-19. Kugler set a hearing for Monday to decide whether to postpone sentencing.
Cipparone contends in part that the false statement Nucera made to the FBI was “inconsistent with his well-established good character and community service as a police officer, township administrator, and former Air Force service member.” The stigma and public scorn Nucera has suffered provide a deterrent without any jail time necessary, he wrote in a 133-page sentencing memorandum.
“He already has suffered severe financial punishment, punishment to his reputation and punishment to his family,” Cipparone wrote. Nucera has been stripped of his $7,400 monthly pension and relies upon funds from relatives to meet his financial obligations, his lawyer said.
Nucera, 64, was convicted in October 2019 of lying to FBI agents about allegations that he struck a handcuffed Black suspect during an arrest at a Bordentown hotel in 2016. The jury deadlocked on two more serious charges — hate-crime assault and deprivation of civil rights. Each carries up to 10 years in prison. Nucera faces retrial on those charges.
The hate-crime assault case made international headlines in 2017 after authorities alleged that Nucera, the longtime chief in the predominantly white community just south of Trenton, had a history of spewing racial hatred, including speaking about sending police dogs to intimidate Black spectators at high school basketball games; joining a firing squad to mow Black people down; and comparing them to ISIS.
In a recording played during his trial, Nucera could be heard saying, “It’s gonna get to the point where I could shoot one of these [expletives].”
At the center of the charges against Nucera were 81 recordings secretly made by fellow officers that captured the chief using racial slurs. Officers also said the suspect was in custody and not resisting when Nucera slammed the teen’s head into a metal doorjamb during a scuffle with police at a Ramada hotel.
In his memorandum, Cipparone said Nucera was more than “his ill-advised, late in life and career, recorded spoken words.” Other police officers convicted of lying to the FBI, received probation, he said. Nucera’s wife, Leslie; son Frank III, a Bordentown Township police officer; and daughter Christine wrote character letters to the judge.
“My father’s entire world has been altered by this event in his life,” his daughter wrote. “The remorse that he has felt and expressed will never be acquitted.”
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Nucera faces 10 to 16 months in prison on the lying charge. Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Lorber asked Kugler to impose between 46 and 57 months, saying the circumstances warrant a higher sentence.
“Nucera not only lied to the FBI, he did so as a sitting police chief,” Lorber wrote in a memo to the judge. “Not only did Nucera strike a handcuffed detainee and then lie to the FBI about his conduct, he did so because the detainee was Black.”
In a secretly recorded interview with an FBI agent, Nucera said that he had nothing to do with the suspect’s arrest and that he had no knowledge of any officer using excessive force.
“I didn’t go hands-on, didn’t touch anybody,” Nucera said.
Experts said at the time that the case was unique because Nucera was implicated by his rank-and-file officers who broke the “blue wall of silence.” Officers said Nucera easily lost his temper and retaliated against anyone who challenged him. 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. He remains free on bond.