10 Criminal Charges Filed Against Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith

He is among four men charged in the case

WWJ News
March 24, 2020 - 5:00 pm
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CLINTON TWP. (WWJ) - Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith is facing ten criminal charges for alleged corruption, amid calls for him to step down. 

The Michigan Attorney General's Office on Tuesday issued arrest warrants for Smith and three other men charged after a year-long investigation into the alleged misspending of forfeiture funds collected by Smith's office.

The charges against Smith, filed in 41-B District Court in Clinton Township, include the following: 

•    1 count official misconduct in office – a five-year felony;  
•    1 count tampering with evidence in a civil proceeding – a four-year felony;  
•    1 count accessory after the fact to embezzlement by a public official (Benjamin Liston) – a five-year felony;  
•    1 count conducting a criminal enterprise – a 20-year felony;  
•    5 counts embezzlement by a public official – a 10-year felony – one count each for years 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018; and  
•    1 count of conspiracy to commit forgery – a 14-year felony and a $10,000 additional fine. 

Speaking to reporters a year ago, Smith acknowledged this "doesn't look great," but said he welcomed the AG's investigation as he had nothing to hide. He later told reporters he used the funds appropriately.   

Tuesday afternoon, Smith's attorney, John Dakmak, released the following statement: 

"We have been working and cooperating with the Michigan Department of Attorney General since last year while it continued to investigate politically motivated allegations about how our client, Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith managed Macomb County’s forfeiture fund.  We are shocked and dismayed to learn only through the media of the filing of charges by the attorney general.  Regardless, we will vigorously defend Mr. Smith against these baseless allegations.  We look forward to Mr. Smith’s day in open court, whenever that may be.  

"As he has for over fifteen years, Mr. Smith will continue to run the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office efficiently and effectively with the needs of victims, law enforcement partners and the community as its top priority. "

Due to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's "Stay Home" order amid the coronavirus outbreak, Nessel issued a video discussing the situation. 

“In order for citizens to maintain trust in the institutions of government, public officials must, at all times, conduct themselves in accordance with the laws of our state,” Nessel said. “When public officials fail to do so, the people must have confidence that they will be held to account, fairly, and without any special treatment based upon their status as a public official. The Department of Attorney General, will continue to work to protect this fundamental principle, that no one is above the law.” 

Along with Smith, Nessel has charged Benjamin Liston, retired Macomb County assistant prosecutor and former chief of operations; Derek Miller, the county’s current assistant prosecutor and chief of operations; and businessman William Weber.

Liston faces four charges: 

•    1 count official misconduct in office – a five-year felony;  
•    1 count conducting a criminal enterprise – a 20-year felony; and  
•    2 counts embezzlement by a public official – a 10-year felony – one count each for 2016 and 2017.   

Miller faces two charges: 

•    1 count official misconduct in office – a five-year felony; and  
•    1 count conspiracy to commit a legal act in an illegal manner – a five-year felony;  

Weber, the owner of Weber Security Group, faces four charges: 

•    1 count forgery – a 14-year felony;  
•    1 count larceny by conversion, $20,000 or more – a 10-year felony;  
•    1 count aiding and abetting Smith’s embezzlement by a public official – a 10-year felony; and  
•    1 count receiving and concealing stolen property – a 10-year felony.  

The Attorney General’s office, along with multiple agencies and the Michigan State Police, began an investigation after Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel filed a complaint with the office. In the complaint, Hackel called for an investigation into inappropriate use of forfeiture accounts. Asset forfeiture powers are to be used in a way that enhances public safety and security, not for personal enrichment. 

Then in May of 2019, Michigan State Police raided Smith's tony Macomb County home and were seen leaving with computers, cell phones and security cameras.

The warrant request indicated investigators were searching for "all documents and records related to funds received from drug forfeitures, operating while intoxicated vehicle forfeitures, the bad check restitution program, and the Warren drug court from December 2011 to November 2018."

According to Nessel, investigators found that Smith and other defendants used the asset forfeiture funds to buy flowers and make-up for select secretaries, a security system for Smith’s residence, garden benches for staffers’ homes, country club catering for parties, campaign expenditures and more. Nessel said the money should have been spent on, for example, victim restitution for check forgeries, prosecutor training, equipment like cell phones or fax machines to support prosecution efforts and other programs for victims.

While forfeiture accounts are under the law supposed to be controlled by the county treasurer, Nessel said investigators found Smith had four accounts containing public monies he controlled without official county oversight, including Drug Forfeiture, Bad Check Restitution, OWI (Operating While under the Influence) Forfeiture and Warren Drug Court. 

It's alleged that investigators also determined that Weber provided false invoices totaling nearly $28,000 as part of the operation. 

The investigation involved the Attorney General’s Public Integrity Unit, the Michigan State Police and other agencies. Southfield’s 46th District Court Judge Cynthia Arvant was appointed by the State Court Administrator to sign the warrants after Macomb County 41B District Court judges recused themselves. 

“I would like to thank the Michigan State Police along with their law enforcement partners for their diligent work throughout this investigation,” Nessel said. “I also commend the hardworking attorneys in our Public Integrity Unit, who continue to demonstrate an unwavering commitment to rebuilding public trust in our government. These combined efforts ensured a professional and thorough investigation built on integrity.” 

“As Attorney General, I take no responsibility more seriously than protecting the public trust,” Nessel said. “The reason is simple: Without public trust, government fails. Without public trust, justice stands no chance against reckless abuses of power.” 

Smith, as of Tuesday afternoon, remained in his job as Macomb County Prosecutor.

Among those calling for Smith's resignation are Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, who said Smith should “seriously consider stepping down."

For Smith to be removed it would either be a decision by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer or through an action of the Macomb County Board of Commissioners and its chairman, Bob Smith, who is also Eric Smith’s brother.  

Smith did not immediately comment on the charges. 

It's unclear if he is custody.