Plainfield police officials indicted on official misconduct, conspiracy, theft charges

A Union County grand jury has returned a 39-count indictment against two Plainfield Police Division officials accused of stealing a combined total of more than $11,000 by repeatedly filing fraudulent timesheets for overtime and extra-duty work shifts, acting Union County Prosecutor Grace H. Park announced Monday.

Plainfield Police Sgt. Leslie Knight, 44, and Lt. James Abney, 46, each has been charged with second-degree official misconduct, second-degree engaging in a pattern of official misconduct, second-degree conspiracy, third-degree tampering with public records, numerous third- and fourth-degree charges of theft by deception, fourth-degree falsifying government records, and several related offenses.

An intensive, months-long investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office’s Special Prosecutions Unit and the Plainfield Police Division’s Internal Affairs Unit revealed that Knight allegedly billed the City of Plainfield for more than 30 overtime and extra-duty shifts she worked during times in which she was also being paid for regular, on-duty work, according to Union County Assistant Prosecutor John Esmerado, who is prosecuting the case. The amount of illegally obtained payment claimed by Knight totaled more than $6,800 during the 2012 and 2013 calendar years, Esmerado said.

The investigation revealed that Abney engaged in similar criminal conduct in 2012 and 2013, when he served as a sergeant and later as a lieutenant, according to Esmerado. In his case, those actions yielded more than $4,200 in illegally obtained pay, Esmerado said.

Knight and Abney both served as ranking officers, to whom other officers would report regularly, during the time in which they are alleged to have illegally billed the City, Esmerado added. The pair also on several occasions allegedly signed off on each other’s fraudulent overtime or off-duty timesheets, and Knight oversaw the administration and scheduling of extra-duty work for the entire Division during the time she was orchestrating the alleged scheme. At one point, the indictment against Knight alleges, she signed in to the Division’s payroll system under another Division employee’s username in order to secure payment for her own fraudulent work claims.

The charges against Knight and Abney were issued via summons on Monday, and both are expected to travel to Elizabeth for criminal processing early this week. Convictions on second-degree crimes typically result in penalties of 5 to 10 years in state prison, while third-degree offenses typically result in terms of 3 to 5 years. Convictions in this case additionally would result in Knight and Abney being permanently barred from public employment in New Jersey.

These criminal charges are mere accusations. Each defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.