Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith faces corruption charges after forfeiture funds probe

Smith accused of misusing forfeiture funds; 3 others also charged

Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith.

Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith faces a list of corruption charges including conducting a criminal enterprise and embezzlement after an investigation into his handling of forfeiture funds.

Last year, Michigan State Police raided Smith’s office and then his home in Macomb Township, hoping to learn more about his handling of forfeiture funds. The money in those forfeiture funds is supposed to be used for specific police and law enforcement activities. Smith’s use of the funds was at the center of the investigation, officials said.

Smith now faces 10 felony charges including:

  • 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 Liston’s embezzlement by a public official – 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.

“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,” reads a statement by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. “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.”

Nessel said an arrest warrant has been requested for Smith. Local 4 and ClickOnDetroit learned Smith is expected to turn himself in to authorities this week.

The prosecutor released the following statement on Monday, a day before charges were filed at 41B District Court in Clinton Township:

“I have fully cooperated with the State Police Investigation from the day it began. I will continue to do so. Furthermore, I stand by my previous statements that these forfeiture funds were spent appropriately in accordance with the law. During these extremely trying times of the COVID-19 crisis the focus of our office continues to be the health and safety of our staff, partners in law enforcement and victims. We are continuing to ensure that the wheels of justice do not stop and those that commit crimes are held accountable.”

Read back: Police dismantle security system during raid at home of Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith

According to a spreadsheet from the Macomb County Finance Department that covers how the money was spent from 2014 to 2018, Smith spent a considerable amount of money on local police departments and the sheriff’s department, but there were other purchases made that weren’t obvious police activities. Investigators estimate the total amount of money embezzled related to these crimes since 2012 to be about $600,000.

  • Nearly $2,000 was spent on two refrigerators and equipment, while nearly $20,000 worth of checks were written to AT&T and another $8,000 went to DIRECTV.
  • More than $10,000 worth of checks were also written to Culligan and Purified Water to Go.
  • More than $7,000 was also spent on retirement and Christmas parties at Fern Hill Country Club.
  • The spreadsheet shows that $83,514 was spent with American Express. Many of those charges were made with Smith’s secretary’s Amex card.
  • The secretary’s name, Lori Addelia, appears on more than 100 checks totaling $63,020. Addelia reportedly would use her own card for purchases and Smith would reimburse her from forfeiture accounts.

The notations on the checks say they were reimbursements for supplies, lunches and equipment.

Smith was first elected Macomb County’s prosecuting attorney in 2004. He gained recognition during the 2007 Tara Grant murder case.

3 other people charged

Nessel announced later Tuesday that three other people face charges in connection to this investigation:

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. Arrest warrants have been requested for them, too, Nessel announced.

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.

Nessel offers case background

Here’s what Nessel’s office said about the case in the Tuesday news release:

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.

Examples of proper asset forfeiture expenditures include victim restitution for check forgeries, prosecutor training, equipment like cell phones or fax machines to support prosecution efforts, and other programs for victims. Investigators found that Smith and other defendants used the money 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.

Under statute, forfeiture accounts are to be controlled by the county treasurer. However, investigators found Smith had four accounts containing public monies he controlled without official county oversight. Those accounts are: Drug Forfeiture, Bad Check Restitution, OWI (Operating While under the Influence) Forfeiture, and Warren Drug Court.

Investigators also determined that Weber provided false invoices totaling nearly $28,000 as part of the operation.

For Smith to be removed as Macomb County Prosecutor, 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.