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Cop Becomes Criminal: Union Township Police Officer Pleads Guilty to Theft

Union Township NJ Theft Lawyers

It is never good news to learn about a person who is sworn to enforce the criminal laws falling prey to the urge to break those same laws. However, on February 15, 2018, a Union Township Police Department sergeant pleaded guilty to third-degree theft in Union County Superior Court in Elizabeth New Jersey.

Michael Wittevrongel, formerly a police sergeant with the Union Township Police Department, admitted responsibility for accepting thousands of dollars in overtime pay that he did not earn. In exchange for his guilty plea, Wittevrongel will serve a term of probation, will pay restitution in the amount of $6,400, and he will be permanently barred from seeking or obtaining public employment in New Jersey.

This plea marks the end of a two-month investigation by the Union Township Police Internal Affairs Unit. The case was prosecuted by the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, Elizabeth, with a recently appointed County Prosecutor – Michael A. Monahan.

Wittevrongel had been a police officer for more than 25 years. According to pension records his salary was $140,000 per year at his last post.

Theft Offenses and Forfeiture of Public Office In New Jersey

The crime of theft covers any kind of unlawful taking of the property of another, and therefore covers a broad range of illegal activity. Some of the theft offenses under New Jersey law include:

Receiving Stolen Property
Theft by Unlawful Taking,
Theft by Deception
Credit Card Theft
Auto Theft
Computer Theft
Identity Theft
Theft of Property Lost, Mislaid, or Delivered by Mistake

While news reports do not specify to which theft offense Wittevrongel pleaded guilty, it is likely that he was charged with Theft by Deception, under New Jersey Statute N.J.S.A. 2C:20-4. In order to be proven guilty of Theft by Deception, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. The defendant obtained the property of another;
  2. The defendant purposely obtained the property by deception; and
  3. The victim relied upon the deception in parting with the property.

In Wittevrongel’s case, it appears that he obtained overtime pay by deceiving the Union Police Department into believing that he actually worked the overtime recorded, and the police department relied upon his deception.

With regard to sentencing, New Jersey statute N.J.S.A. 2C:20-2 provides the grading of theft offenses in the State. Theft offenses typically range from Second-degree crimes to Disorderly persons offenses, and are directly related to the value of the item that was stolen, as follows:

In Wittevrongel’s case, it appears that the amount of restitution, $6,400, was at or around the amount he stole in unearned overtime pay, and thus the charge was for a third-degree theft.

As part of Wittevrongel’s plea deal, he agreed to forfeit his public office and never seek to work for the State again. That portion of the deal comes from New Jersey statute N.J.S.A. 2C:51-2. That law provides that forfeiture of public office is mandated for a conviction of any offense that (i) involves dishonesty, (ii) touches upon defendant’s office, or (iii) is a third-degree offense or higher.

In this case, it appears that Wittevrongel fits all the criteria because Theft by Deception involves dishonesty, it was done in the course of his duties as a police officer, and he pleaded to a third-degree charge. Accordingly, it is not a surprise that the condition was added to his plea deal.

Union County Lawyers Are Ready To Help You With Any Theft, or Official Misconduct Charge

If you have been charged with a theft offense, you need to retain the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney. That advice is all the more true if you are a public official who may also be facing Official Misconduct charges, or at least may be forced to forfeit your public employment. The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall can help you. Our team of attorneys, some of whom are former prosecutors, have an immense amount of experience with theft cases, and cases involving public officials. Call our Cranford office today at 908-272-1700. The first consultation is completely free.