An East Hanover man who wants to be a medical doctor like his father was given a suspended five-year prison sentence Thursday for giving anabolic steroids to a high school athlete and cocaine to his girlfriend.
Apologizing to his family and the community, Anthony M. Cuppari, now 28, pleaded guilty this past February to conspiracy to distribute cocaine and distribution of anabolic steroids in liquid form to a juvenile, a 17-year-old, in 2007.
The sentence imposed by Superior Court Judge Thomas V. Manahan in Morristown means that Cuppari will be on probation for the next five years, must perform 300 hours of community service, and pay a $2,000 fine.
Manahan said he wants Cuppari — who has taken pre-med courses — to speak, if permitted, to students and sports groups about the dangers of anabolic steroids. If Cuppari violates any terms of probation in the next five years, the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office could argue for him to be sent to prison for 10 years, the judge said.
While defense lawyer Peter Gilbreth suggested a suspended prison sentence would be appropriate, county Assistant Prosecutor Vincent Leo III argued for straight prison time. Leo said the need to deter others from distribution of steroids, as well as other illicit drugs, is overwhelming.
If there is no meaningful punishment, Leo said, steroid-using athletes can just think: “It’s okay to cheat. Forget the hard work.”
Cuppari was a personal fitness trainer and volunteer football coach for Hanover Park High School when he was picked up with 15 others in 2007 during a drug investigation called “Operation Drop-off” into steroid distribution and use in the county. Cuppari told the judge he was 24 at the time and learned the error of his ways in a drastic way.
Cuppari’s sentence was similar to those received by co-defendants. His accused co-ring-leader in the steroid distribution scheme, Michael B. Dente of East Hanover, received two years’ probation and 90 days on the Sheriff’s Labor Assistance Program, a work-in-lieu-of-jail program, in 2009.
Dr. Anthony ”Tony” Cuppari, a prominent physician in Morris County, told the judge his son is a ”super person” who is deeply loved by his family but made an error in judgment.
”He’s the type of man you’d want one of your daughters to marry,” Dr. Cuppari said.
The defendant Cuppari said he bought a gram of cocaine for his then-girlfriend in 2007 because she liked the drug. He said he himself used anabolic steroids between the ages of 21 and 24 and that a high school athlete kept pestering him for steroids to strengthen his neck muscles.
Cuppari said he refused but he learned the youth was using a type of steroid toxic to his liver so he decided to provide him with what he believed was a safer steroid.
”At that time I was so ignorant I believed I was helping him. It was the biggest mistake of my life,” Cuppari said.
The judge told Cuppari he harmed others and his family and helped to spread ”a societal cancer.”
“You should never minimize the role you played in spreading this cancer. You did harm,” Manahan said.