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, according to Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin.
Officials say 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 his local Park Police PBA, Local 222, and the State Law Enforcement Union (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,” said Acting Attorney General Platkin. “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, meals at upscale restaurants in Philadelphia, New Jersey, and the now-shuttered 1930s-era speakeasy “21” in Midtown Manhattan, which celebrities had frequented.
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 the defendant allegedly told them 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 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 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 face five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
The charges are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.