MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich. – Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith has run the asset forfeiture funds out of his office with no county oversight.
Last year, Macomb County Treasurer Larry Rocca went public with his demand that Smith stop running the funds without oversight. After fighting it, Smith ultimately complied. He then fought a lawsuit by two activists who wanted to see where the money was going.
Smith lost and was forced to turn over the checks that had been written from the accounts. When those checks went public, questions mounted about where the money has been going.
“I wish, when you look through these checks, that I wasn’t seeing so many questionable expenditures,” said Macomb Commissioner Leon Drolet.
When this issue was first raised last year, Drolet thought it was just an accounting oversight. Now, he’s not so sure.
Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel is on record saying the funds need a forensic audit. The Macomb County Board of Commissioners will meet Wednesday to figure out what to do next.
Sources tell Local 4 a lot of politicking is going on behind closed doors. Smith’s brother, Bob, is the chairman of the Board of Commissioners.
Asset forfeiture funds are public dollars and the use of those monies is specific and targeted. The law says they need to be spent fighting crime and implementing the Victims Crime Act. The checks Smith was forced to turn over, show that he has given tens of thousands to local police agencies, which is appropriate.
What is questionable is the more than $100,000 in payments to American Express and Visa, with no notation of what they’re for. There are also donations to charity, which, while noble, are not what the money is to be used for unless it directly relates to fighting crime. Plus, thousands of dollars went to restaurants, country clubs and flower shops.
The central questions raised: Is this an appropriate use of these monies? What kind of audit should the county do? Should it do a deep dive forensic audit or something less?
Drolet thinks a forensic audit going back seven years is needed.
“I’m very concerned, and I think that the Board of Commissioners has a job to do here and that’s to go back and audit these funds and make sure they’ve been spent appropriately," he said.
Smith responded to calls for an audit:
"The past two treasurers, the past three finance directors, the Board of Commissioners and the county exec's office has been aware of these accounts and never had an issue until now.
"When the county was unable to fund our office, we found ways to do it ourselves without any taxpayer funds being used. Every penny spent has been spent to enhance law enforcement, plain and simple, and we look forward to an audit to get the political motivations set aside."