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Bergen prosecutor welcomes decision in Paramus Catholic overseas sex case

Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter (MUGSHOTS: Courtesy BCPO

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Parents can take comfort in a state court’s ruling today that Paramus Catholic’s former vice-president of operations and assistant varsity football coach can both be prosecuted here on charges of having sex with three teenage students during a school trip to Germany, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said this afternoon.

“To think that parents would entrust their children on school trips and not have anyone held legally responsible if anything criminal happens simply defies common sense,” the prosecutor told CLIFFVIEW PILOT this afternoon.

Molinelli said he knows of no other case of its kind ever in New Jersey.

“We’re breaking new ground and very pleased to have success with it,” he said. “Parents can now rest assured that when their children leave the country on such a trip, there is recourse in our criminal justice system if that trust is breached.”

In a decision released this morning, New Jersey’s Appellate Division ruled that Superior Court Judge James J. Guida was correct in refusing to dismiss the case against Michael Sumulikoski ( above, top ) and Arthur Sopel ( above, bottom ).

Lawyers for both men had argued that the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office “lacks territorial jurisdiction” because “the alleged wrongful acts occurred outside New Jersey’s borders.”

The prosecutor’s office, in turn, said both men breached their duty to protect the teens, making it a state case.

The appeals judges agreed, finding that both men had the “supervisory or disciplinary power” over the students while “assuming the responsibility for [their] care” – both of which were established in New Jersey.

“[A] state may regulate conduct occurring outside of its territorial boundaries if the conduct has, or is intended to have, a substantial effect within the territory and the regulation itself is otherwise reasonable,” the higher court noted.

The appeals judges pointed to U.S. Supreme Court opinions – one in 1992 and the other from 1911 – that specify that acts “done outside a jurisdiction, but intended to produce and producing detrimental effects within it, justify a State in punishing the cause of the harm as if he had been present at the effect.”

A grand jury in Hackensack returned a 25-count indictment against the pair in December 2011 in connection with the 10-day trip the previous February to Werl, Germany, during which they served as chaperones.

Sopel, of River Edge, who was 28 at the time, was charged with six counts of sexual assault involving two alleged victims – both 17 — and two counts of child endangerment “by engaging in sexual contact.”

[An additional 11 counts in the indictment against Sopel don’t relate to the appeal, the state court noted. Two involve allegations that he tried to get two of the students to lie about the incidents.]

Sumulikoski, of Elmwood Park, who was 31, was charged with three counts of sexual assault, one of child endangerment “by engaging in sexual contact” and two of child endangerment “by allowing Sopel to perform unlawful acts in the presence of the victim.”

Both men are former Paramus Catholic High School athletes who were stars in their day.

Sumulikoski was an assistant varsity football coach in charge of the wide receivers and cornerbacks who also taught at the school. A former team captain, “Sims” was graduated from Paramus Catholic in ’01 before attending Rutgers University.

He was a two-time All-League selection at wide receiver and cornerback and winner of the 2001 All-Suburban Most Versatile Player Award.

Sopel was graduated from the school in 1998. More than 6 feet tall, he had been playing soccer when he was recruited for Paramus Catholic’s varsity basketball team and quickly became a high-scoring frontcourt player.

Both remain free on bail.

MOLINELLI PHOTO: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter (MUGSHOTS: Courtesy BCPO)

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