An Oceanport couple have been charged with the first degree crime of Strict Liability for Drug Induced Death. The charges stem from an overdose death that took place this past December in Eatontown, announced Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni.
George Cucuzella, 30, and Nicole Ricciardi, 32, both of Oceanport, were taken into custody on July 14, 2020 in connection with the fatal overdose death of 36-year-old Raul Garcia of Keansburg, who died on December 2, 2019. On that date, at 12:21 a.m., the Eatontown Police Department received a report of a possible overdose victim in a local motel room. The responding officers located the victim, Raul Garcia, lying on the bathroom floor of Room 137. He was unconscious and not breathing. Despite the efforts of the Eatontown Police Department, the Eatontown First Aid Squad, and the MONOC Paramedics, Raul Garcia was pronounced deceased.
An investigation was immediately launched into the victim’s death by the Eatontown Police Department and the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office. As a result of that investigation, police determined that the victim purchased heroin twice on December 1, 2019, once at a gas station in Eatontown and once earlier that same day in the area of his hotel room, also in Eatontown. George Cucuzella, Nicole Ricciardi, and another man who has since passed away, were all previously tied to the drug sales while the investigation progressed into the cause of the victim’s death.
Ultimately, an examination conducted by the Middlesex County Medical Examiner’s Office determined the cause of Raul Garcia’s death as “Acute combined drug toxicity due to fentanyl, acetyl fentanyl, and heroin” and the manner of death as being an “accident.” As a result of the investigation, George Cucuzella and Nicole Ricciardi were charged with the first degree crime of Strict Liability for Drug Induced Death. Under N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5, which defines that crime, a person who distributes a controlled dangerous substance is strictly liable for a death which results from the injection, inhalation or ingestion of that substance, and is guilty of a crime of the first degree.
If convicted of this charge, both face up to twenty years in New Jersey State Prison, subject to the provisions of the “No Early Release Act (N.E.R.A.),” which requires that 85% of the sentence must be served prior to release.
This case is assigned to Monmouth County Assistant Prosecutor Christopher J. Decker, Director of the Office’s Major Crimes Bureau. Cucuzella is represented by John J. McMahon, Esq. of West Orange. Ricciardi is represented by Dennis S. Cleary, Esq. of West Orange. A detention hearing is currently scheduled for July 20, 2020 before Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Paul X. Escandon.
Despite these charges, every defendant is presumed innocent, unless and until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, following a trial at which the defendant has all of the trial rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and State law.