A Union County man, the former head track and field coach, who conditioned several Jamaicans at Essex County College, admitted to stealing money from the school in a fraudulent travel scheme.
Michael Smart, 62, of Roselle, pleaded guilty Friday to second-degree theft by unlawful taking before Superior Court Judge William A. Daniel, state Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino said in a news release.
In pleading guilty, Smart admitted that he stole approximately $150,000 from 2012 through 2015 during his coaching tenure at the college, Porrino said.
Smart, who coached several Jamaican star athletes, including 2008 Olympic Games 400m hurdles champion Melaine Walker, Andrea Bliss, World Indoor 800m silver medallist Kenia Sinclair, Olympic Games 100m silver medallist Kerron Stewart, Natasha Ruddock, Jovanee Jarrett among others, is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 3, 2017.
Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend Smart be sentenced to three years in state prison and will be permanently barred from public employment and must pay full restitution, Porrino said.
According to Porrino, 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Nearly all of the funds stolen by Smart were withdrawn at ATM machines and deposited into his personal bank accounts.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 either did not charge entry fees or charged less than half the amount taken by Smart.
“As a college coach, Smart should have loyally guarded every dollar in the athletic budget to enhance the school’s sports programs,” Porrino said. “We have insured that he will pay a high price for betraying these students.”