Charged NJ Park Police officer allegedly stole $160,000 from union

TRENTON — A state park police officer was charged last week with stealing about $160,000 from two police unions he led, state prosecutors said Wednesday.

Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin said Chris Smith, 48, of Hope used the money for personal meals at high-end restaurants, plane tickets and outings of the state unrelated to trade union affairs.

Smith was charged with one count of second-degree robbery by unlawful taking for what prosecutors described as “an ongoing theft scheme” that occurred between 2014 and 2019, when Smith was president of Local 222 of the PBA Park Police and State Law Enforcement. Union (SLEU).

If convicted of the second-degree charge, Smith faces five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.

“Union members had dues deducted from their pay, thinking their hard-earned money would be used to represent their best interests at the bargaining table,” Platkin said. “Instead, they were unwittingly footing the bill when the check arrived at the defendant’s dinner table, at high-end restaurants where he indulged himself to his heart’s content.”

“After getting free meals, free plane tickets and free internet access from his fellow police officers, who never agreed to splurge on this former union president, we expect the ‘Defendant now pays dues,’ said Thomas Eicher, executive director of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability.

Investigators allege Smith used union bank cards to pay for outings in New York, Pennsylvania and Florida, air travel, his personal internet service and meals at high-end restaurants in Philadelphia, New Jersey and from New York.

They say restaurant visits included the now closed 1930s speakeasy “21” in midtown Manhattan, which was frequented by celebrities.

Local 222 officers questioned Smith about the expenses and were told the expenses related to meetings with lawyers, politicians and other influential people who could help the unions, prosecutors said. However, investigators say he was often alone or with his wife when the charges arose and the trips did not coincide with union events.

When confronted with the low balance in Local 222’s account, Smith allegedly blamed payroll for not properly deducting union dues from members’ paychecks.

Michael Symons is the Statehouse Bureau Chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at [email protected]

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