TRENTON – Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin today announced that a grand jury has indicted a New Jersey park police officer who was charged with improperly spending about $160,000 in funds from two police unions he led, using the money for personal meals at upscale restaurants, airfare and out-of-state outings not related to union business.
Chris Smith, 48, of Hope, was charged with one count of second-degree theft by unlawful taking.
What prosecutors described as “a continuous theft scheme” occurred between 2014 and 2019, when Smith was president of both his local Park Police PBA, Local 222, and the State Law Enforcement Unit (SLEU).
“Union members were having dues deducted from their paychecks, thinking their hard-earned money would be used to represent their best interests at the bargaining table,” Acting Attorney General Platkin said. “Instead, they were unwittingly picking up the tab when the check came to the defendant’s dinner table, at top-notch restaurants where he indulged himself on their dime.”
“After getting free meals, free plane tickets and free Internet access courtesy of his fellow police officers, who never agreed to splurge on this ex-union president, we expect the defendant will now pay the dues,” said Thomas Eicher, Executive Director of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability (OPIA) within the AG’s Office. “As alleged, Smith exploited men and women who work difficult, dangerous jobs to protect our communities, some of whom were his own coworkers who entrusted him with their money and a position of authority.”
Investigators with the OPIA allege that Smith used union bank cards to pay for personal expenses without authorization.
Prosecutors say that included outings in New York, Pennsylvania and Florida, air travel, the bill for his personal internet service, and meals at upscale restaurants in Philadelphia, New Jersey and at the now-shuttered 1930s-era speakeasy “21” in Midtown Manhattan, which had been frequented by celebrities.
OPIA detectives confirmed the expenses were unrelated to the work he did as president of the unions.
Local 222 officers at one point questioned Smith about the use of the cards, and they were allegedly told by the defendant that the expenses were related to meetings with attorneys, politicians and other influential people who could help the cause of the unions. But investigators say that was not the case, alleging Smith was often alone or with his wife when the charges were incurred.
Plus authorities say they found that the travel expenses that appeared on the union cards did not coincide with any union activities or events.
At one point when he was confronted about the small sum of money in Local 222’s bank account, Smith allegedly blamed payroll for failing to properly deduct union dues from members’ paychecks when in fact he had been draining the account through unauthorized expenses.
A grand jury voted to indict Smith on September 6. If convicted at trial of second-degree theft by unlawful taking, the defendant could be facing five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
Deputy Attorneys General Samantha Thoma and Allora Richey are prosecuting the case for the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, under the supervision of Deputy Attorney General Peter Lee, Deputy Director Anthony Picione and Executive Director Tom Eicher.
The charges are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
For Smith: Jeffrey Garrigan, Esq., Jersey City