TRENTON –Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino announced that the former head track and field coach for Essex County College pleaded guilty today to stealing $150,000 by fraudulently taking advances for travel and event expenses and depositing them into his personal bank account.
Michael Smart, 62, of Roselle, N.J., pleaded guilty today to a charge of second-degree theft by unlawful taking before Superior Court Judge William A. Daniel in Union County. In pleading guilty, Smart admitted that he stole a total of approximately $150,000 from 2012 through 2015, while employed as the head track coach for Essex County College. Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Smart be sentenced to three years in state prison. He will be permanently barred from public employment and must pay full restitution.
Deputy Attorney General Anthony J. Robinson took the guilty plea for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. Smart is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 3, 2017.
“As a college coach, Smart should have loyally guarded every dollar in the athletic budget to enhance the school’s sports programs,” said Attorney General Porrino. “We have insured that he will pay a high price for betraying these students.”
“Smart used the debit card that was entrusted to him for team purposes like it was a personal debit card, racking up many thousands of dollars in withdrawals,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “By sending this coach to prison, we will deter others who might consider embezzling funds in this fashion.”
Smart was charged in an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. The investigation began with a referral from the New Jersey Office of the State Comptroller. As the head track coach, Smart was given a debit/credit card on a college account for travel and event expenses incurred by the track and field program. The athletic department made funds available in the account for expenses like food, transportation and event entry fees so that coaches could withdraw money when their teams had events. After events, coaches were supposed to return any unused funds with an accounting of expenditures as well as receipts to document them. Smart withdrew approximately $150,000 in funds using the college debit card for which he provided no accounting or receipts.
Nearly all of the funds stolen by Smart were withdrawn at ATM machines and deposited into his personal bank accounts. Often he would withdraw the transactional maximum of $700 several times per day. On multiple occasions, Smart either inflated the costs of an event or requested money for events that the track team did not attend. Other times he requested between $1,000 and $1,500 for entry fees for events, when the hosting schools, in fact, either did not charge entry fees or charged less than half the amount taken by Smart.
Attorney General Porrino commended Deputy Attorney General Robinson and the detectives in the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau North Squad who conducted the investigation. Attorney General Porrino also thanked the New Jersey Office of the State Comptroller and the Essex County Office of Inspector General for their valuable assistance.
Attorney General Porrino and Director Honig noted that the Division of Criminal Justice has established a toll-free Corruption Tipline 1-866-TIPS-4CJ for the public to confidentially report corruption, financial crime and other illegal activities. The public also can log on to the Division’s web page at www.njdcj.org to report suspected wrongdoing confidentially.
Defense Attorney: Joseph Rotella, Esq., of Newark.
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