Foster dad to fight sex abuse charges

Date: 1999-10-27

Author: HEIDI SINGER; ADVANCE STAFF WRITER

Former Staten Islander surrenders to Pennsylvania authorities and is released on $300,000 bail

A foster father charged with the sexual abuse of five young boys in his care turned himself in to Pennsylvania authorities yesterday and was released on $300,000 bail after pleading not guilty to multiple accounts of child abuse.

Thomas Cusick, a playwright, composer and a native Staten Islander who formerly lived in Port Richmond, Travis and Grymes Hill, cared for two dozen boys over a 30-year career as a foster and adoptive father. Many of the boys were around age 8 when they came to live with Cusick, said Bucks County prosecutors.

Cusick intends to fight the 17 counts of indecent assault, endangering the welfare of children and corruption of minors that were brought against him Monday by the district attorney of Bucks County, the wealthy suburban community where he settled with 13 boys after leaving Staten Island in January 1998, according to his lawyer, Kevin Zolck, of Langhorne, Pa.

Cusick was upset at District Attorney Alan M. Rubenstein's claim that he had evaded the law, according to Zolck. When detectives knocked at the door of his Langhorne home on Monday, both Cusick and his long-time companion Donna A. Robertson were gone, along with all the couple's furniture.

"There's been a lot of suggestion that Tom is running and hiding," said Zolck. "He's not on the lam. He's here and he's not going anywhere."

Zolck said he got a call from a detective with the Middletown Township Police Department on Monday, telling him to present Cusick at court the following morning. Contrary to rumors, he said, Cusick did not flee to Staten Island or anywhere in New York.

Cusick, whose 13 adopted and foster children were taken from him after the allegations of sexual abuse surfaced, moved to a new home this past weekend "for circumstances beyond his control," said Zolck.

Since city and agency foster care officials wouldn't comment on the case, it was unclear yesterday whether Cusick was being paid for the care of his nine adopted children - and if so, whether these payments have stopped.

New York state rates for his four foster children range from $500 to $1,200 each per month, depending on the child's physical and mental condition.

The children were placed in new foster homes after a 17-year old adopted son told police last month that Cusick had sexually abused him beginning at age 9, when he first came to the home. Four other boys gave similar accounts.

At his arraignment in front of District Justice John Kelly Jr., a neatly dressed Cusick, wearing a suit and tie and holding hands with Ms. Robertson, showed up with $50,000 cash, said Rubenstein.

Cusick bought a $30,000 bond to make bail of $300,000, and was released to his new home in nearby Morrisville, Pa.

Zolck refused to comment on the accusations against Cusick, saying only, "we're going to address the charges in court."

But a West Brighton man who has worked closely with Cusick in various theatrical performances over the past decade called the Advance yesterday to staunchly defend his friend and colleague.

"I don't even imagine it's remotely possible," said Tom Zerega, who helps run the Island-based theater group, Center Stage Productions.

"Single mothers found the kids liked being with him more than being on their own. He was taking kids out of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Harlem, some of the worst places in the city, and giving them a home. There wasn't a toy they didn't have."

Cusick often took on young boys with developmental problems, added Zerega.

"A lot of them were not run-of-the-mill abused children," he said. "They had hearing problems or were the children of crack mothers or had Attention Deficit Disorder."

Cusick constantly took the kids from doctor to doctor, "working on both their psychological as well as their physical development," he said.

Zerega's own family spent several Christmases with the Cusicks and he remembered grown-up adopted sons coming back to visit.

He believed that the Cusick family moved to suburban Pennsylvania last year because they needed more space, more scholastic options for children with disabilities and because the neighbors on Cusick's Grymes Hill street may have been uncomfortable with the large number of children in his care.

But according to Bucks County prosecutor Michelle Henry, there may have been more to the move. Ms. Henry told the Advance one of the children in Cusick's care said that "a neighbor may have raised some questions."

Meanwhile, officials at the foster care agency that placed at least 13 of Cusick's children in his care and monitored their progress are tightlipped.

"It would be inappropriate to comment," said James Tourtelotte, president of the board of directors of Downey Side, an agency specializing in adoptions for children age 7 and up.

Tourtelotte would not say whether the agency had followed New York state laws requiring monthly visits to foster children and yearly recertification of foster homes.

"Downey Side has absolutely no comment of any kind on this whole matter," added the Springfield, Mass.-based attorney. "The safest way to not make a mess is to hold your piece and not talk about anything that's involved in a serious legal controversy."

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