Author: HEIDI SINGER; ADVANCE STAFF WRITER
Ex-Islander, a playwright and composer, was facing trial after boys he had raised as a single father reported years of sordid attacks
The legal troubles of accused sex abuser Thomas Cusick came to a bitter end Tuesday, when the Port Richmond native killed himself in a New Jersey hotel room, leaving behind a suicide note that prosecutors said showed anger but no remorse at his situation.
The 47-year old unmarried man was a celebrated adoptive father to boys from some of the city's roughest neighborhoods.
After Cusick moved his family to Langhorne, Pa., one of his adopted boys said the playwright and composer had sexually abused him beginning at the age of 9.
Six other boys came forward by October 1999, and seven Staten Island men were also preparing to testify that Cusick sexually abused them as children.
Those charges brought no reform to New York's overburdened child welfare system, just as his suicide will deliver no relief from the tragedy, prosecutors said.
"He never showed any kind of strength and dignity and honesty in his lifetime," said Diane Gibbons, district attorney for Bucks County, Pa., the wealthy Philadelphia suburb where Cusick moved his family in January 1998. "It doesn't surprise me that he did it this way in his death."
Cusick's suicide appeared to come as a surprise to some of his closest associates.
On Saturday, the last time he talked to his client, defense attorney Kevin Zlock said there was nothing unusual about Cusick's behavior and conversation as he prepared for his trial, which was scheduled to start on April 26.
On Monday, Zlock learned that Cusick had to appear at a hearing in Bucks County Court two days later, to answer charges that he had violated the conditions of his bail by attempting to contact one of his alleged victims.
Tuesday night, Zlock got a distraught call from Cusick's live-in companion, Donna Robertson, who said that the man who had sometimes described her as his fiancee, sometimes his housekeeper, was dead.
"I was saddened by the news. I did not expect it," he said. "Tom has always professed his innocence. He has never considered any option other than a trial."
According to prosecutors, Cusick checked himself into a Holiday Inn in South Brunswick, N.J., about 20 miles from his home in Middletown Township. He registered under a fake name, "Henry Amoroso," made up of the last names of the two people perhaps most responsible for bringing him to trial - prosecutor Michelle Henry and Middletown Township Detective Andrew J. Amoroso.
A maid found him shortly before 4 p.m. Tuesday, dead from a drug overdose, said Ms. Gibbons, the district attorney.
She decided not to disclose the contents of the suicide note, saying it might cause trauma for his victims.
"My reaction was sorrow for the victims. They have been through enough," she said.
But Cusick's feelings were evident in his decision to register as "Henry Amoroso," the prosecutor added.
"He is obviously an angry and vindictive man. I see no remorse in any aspect of this case."
Prosecutors are concerned about the effects of the suicide on the nine adopted and four foster children who had been living with Cusick until they were removed from his home before his arrest last year. At least one of them was reluctant to testify out of concern for Cusick's punishment, according to notes filed by Amoroso. They were told of the suicide and offered counseling, said Ms. Gibbons.
Amoroso's notes contain graphic descriptions of sex between Cusick and his children.
According to Amoroso, the boys named a type of hand lotion that was a part of the sexual activity. After searching his home, police found a bottle of the same lotion under his bed.
Child welfare advocates have expressed outrage that a single man was given so many young boys without arousing suspicion.
Amoroso's notes report suspicion of Cusick when he was living on Staten Island - enough for an investigation into the family, but apparently not enough to prevent him from taking on more boys from the Springfield, Mass.-based Downey Side adoption agency, which specializes in hard-to-place children age 7 and older.
One of the boys described how his adoptive father coached the family to get through investigations of their activities.
Amoroso's notes revealed that "[The boy] said that investigators had come around asking questions before and every time they would tell Tom what was going on first. [The boy] said that Tom would talk his way out. He said that he would then call a family meeting and tell the kids not to talk about anything."
Cusick's suicide will end the Richmond County district attorney's investigation into sexual abuse accusations on Staten Island, said Chief Assistant District Attorney David Lehr.
Island prosecutors opened an investigation last fall, after several people came forward with new sexual abuse information in the wake of publicity surrounding the Pennsylvania charges.
But it will not stop an investigation by Gov. George Pataki into the circumstances that led to a single man's adoption of 28 children over 30 years - 24 of them boys, mostly around the age of nine.
"The concerns remain valid," said Bill Van Slyke, a spokesman for the state Office of Children and Family Services, which supervises the adoption and foster care system in New York. "We'll continue until we're satisfied [the investigation] is complete."
Advance files show Cusick living at addresses on Lexington Avenue in Port Richmond and Travis Avenue in Travis during the 1970s and '80s; Annadale in 1993, and on Grymes Hill in 1997.
In 1980, Cusick was the subject of an Advance profile which recalled how he adopted four children from a troubled family when he was only 18. The kids ranged in age from 2 to 9.
"I've probably done some things that would make Freud turn over in his grave," Cusick, then 28, told the Advance. "But I'm happy and they're happy. So I guess it's all right."
Cusick made headlines again in 1983 for suing Neil Diamond, charging the singer-songwriter with ripping off the melody and rhythms of one of his compositions to create the 1981 hit "We're Gonna Make It."
During the 1990s, he was active in Staten Island's theater community, writing and performing in "The Snow Crystal" and "G.I. Joey." The grandfather of three was also honored in 1997 with two Telly awards for video production on "The Snow Crystal" and a training film for Staten Island University Hospital.