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Climate of complicity alleged in Sheriff Bullock child abuse case

By Tom Coombe, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Jul 18 2014 04:00:00 AM CDT

Some still remember Sheriff Bullock at the Warren County courthouse

BELVIDERE, N.J. -

Former Warren County, New Jersey, Sheriff Edward Bullock is due back in court later this month in the criminal case accusing him of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old boy in the 1980s.

Bullock has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which stem from a grand jury indictment handed down in February, alleging he assaulted the boy in January 1988.

But county employees knew about Bullock’s alleged interest in young boys years before that, according to legal documents obtained by WFMZ.

In these depositions, four former Warren County employees, who worked either for the sheriff’s department or juvenile justice system in the mid-1980s, said it was common knowledge, even something people would joke about.

"Oh, there were comments on a daily basis," former deputy sheriff Tim Rodger said in his statement.

"’Ha, ha, ha, oh the sheriff's got a kid in his office now,' you know, and they'd get like a little smirk or a giggle or it was just understood kind of throughout the whole courthouse that Sheriff Bullock was interested in boys."

Rodger and three other employees gave depositions last year in a civil lawsuit filed against the county, claiming officials knew Bullock was molesting boys but did nothing to stop him. The allegations invite comparisons to the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State where university officials were accused of knowingly turning a blind eye to the misdeeds of someone in authority.

Prosecutors allege Bullock had sex with a 10-year-old boy who was in his custody in January 1988. He is charged with six counts of sexual assault and is free on bail. Bullock rejected a deal in May that would have had him plead guilty to two counts of sexual assault. Bullock is now 85, and lives in Ocean County.

All four former employees – Rodger, his wife Lisa, former deputy Vera Bunn and retired probation worker Theresa Vliet – were either unavailable or have declined to comment for this story.

In each deposition, they told the same story: that people in county government knew Bullock had an interest in boys. He even had a type.

"I noticed, I noticed that there were certain juveniles that he would, he would be, showing... an interest in, more so than maybe some of the others," said Theresa Vliet, who worked for the county probation department from 1976 to 2008 "There was always ah, the ah, cute, blond, blue-eyed, blue-eyed kids."

Bullock left office after pleading guilty in 1991 to official misconduct. He had sought sexual favors from an undercover New Jersey state trooper posing as a teenage boy.

In her statement, Vera Bunn said she and Tim Rodger became concerned about Bullock. She went to the state police Detective Debbie Armitage in 1991.

"I told her I had a concern about Bullock showing interest for young boys and that it was general knowledge in the courthouse and that no one seemed to care," Bunn said.

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"It was general knowledge. I mean people would make remarks all the time in the courthouse, from every area, every department," Bunn said in her statement. Even cadets at the state police academy seemed to know.

Bunn said she saw Bullock ask the boys sexual questions and witnessed him rubbing their shoulders and buttocks.

In the deposition, investigator Lisa Reed asked Bunn what caused her to become concerned. Bunn described a "perverted reaction" Bullock would have to the boys in her presence.

Bunn: Oh, he would just stare at ‘em like he’d, he’d, he would ah, I, he was infatuated with ‘em.

Reed: So, this was…just as a man looking at a woman as attractive to him?

Bunn: Exactly, exactly.

After meeting with Armitage, Tim Rodger came up with a plan to use an undercover officer.

"I told her, well if you had a young trooper that was fresh out of the academy, he likes hanging out at the P'burg Mall, he's there every night," Rodger said in the deposition. "I can guarantee if you put a trooper in there... tell 'em that, you know, that he's, he's a runaway, doesn't you know, have a father, he doesn't know where to go, guaranteed Sheriff Bullock would probably approach him."

Following the undercover sting, Bullock, a Republican, was charged with official misconduct. He resigned, but not until after winning re-election.

At the time, Warren County Democrats said it appeared a coverup was underway, saying Bullock's claim that he'd resigned due to stress wasn't credible. Bullock ultimately spent nine months in prison.

In his deposition, Tim Rodger said authorities waited until after the election that year to charge Bullock, as a way of keeping his seat.

Bullock's next scheduled court date is a July 21 status conference.