Federal officials said Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith had a secret talk in a stairwell, checked to make sure associates weren’t recording him on cellphones and asked employees to lie to FBI agents in an attempt to cover up how he was using thousands of dollars' worth of campaign funds.
United States Attorney Matthew Schneider announced Wednesday that Smith has agreed to plead guilty in connection with a fraud and cover-up scheme, and federal officials revealed very specific details about what he did.
Schneider said Smith has been charged with the federal felony charge of obstruction of justice.
Smith is accused of encouraging at least two assistant prosecuting attorneys in his office to lie to the FBI so he could obstruct a federal grand jury investigation into a wire fraud scheme, according to authorities.
“Mr. Smith has agreed to plead guilty to this charge,” Schneider said. “Today we also filed a plea agreement, which Mr. Smith and his attorney have signed. This plea agreement describes, in detail, how this crime took place.”
Wire fraud scheme
Federal officials said the scheme started around 2012, when Smith, who was already several years into his 16-year tenure as Macomb County prosecutor, controlled a political campaign fund.
Smith raised money for that fund by telling donors that their money would be used for his reelection efforts, Schneider said.
“Sometimes, that was true,” Schneider said. “But sometimes, that was a lie. It was a fraud. That is because Mr. Smith stole money from his campaign account, and he used it for his own personal whims."
Between January 2012 and April 2019, Smith is accused of writing about $55,000 in checks to an associate. Smith claimed the checks were being written to the associate so he could use that person’s property for a campaign office, officials said.
“But that was a sham,” Schneider said. “The associate cashed the checks and kicked back the entire amount to Prosecutor Smith for Smith’s own enjoyment.”
In September 2016, Smith gave a $20,000 check from his campaign fund to an assistant Macomb County prosecuting attorney who worked for him, Schneider said.
Smith told the prosecuting attorney to give him $15,000 from that check and keep the other $5,000, according to authorities. Smith is accused of using that $15,000 for his own personal expenses.
“The theft of campaign funds was only the beginning of this scheme,” Schneider said. “What came next was Smith’s attempt to cover up his crimes.”
Officials said Smith learned in September 2019 that a federal grand jury was investigating his use of the campaign account and that FBI agents were planning to interview his associate about the $55,000 in checks.
Smith tried to get that associate to lie to the FBI, according to authorities.
“Smith tried to convince his associate to falsely tell the FBI that the $55,000 kicked back to Smith was simply a loan that Smith would repay,” Schneider said. “Prosecutor Smith also urged his associate to lie to a federal grand jury.”
Schneider said Smith also tried to get the assistant prosecutor who received the $20,000 check to lie about the case.
In February 2020, Smith went to that assistant prosecutor inside the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office and spoke to them in a stairwell, officials said. He made sure the assistant prosecutor didn’t have a cellphone that could record what he said in the stairwell, Schneider said.
“Smith suggested that he and the assistant prosecutor create a fake consulting contract to explain away the $20,000 that they had stolen from Smith’s campaign fund,” Schneider said.
In that same month, Smith approached another assistant Macomb County prosecuting attorney and told that person to take a walk with him while leaving any cellphones behind, according to authorities.
“Smith did this to ensure his conversation would not be recorded,” Schneider said. “Smith told the second assistant prosecutor to lie to federal law enforcement officers investigating the campaign fund. Specifically, Smith instructed the assistant prosecutor to falsely say that the assistant prosecutor conducted campaign-related research at the office of Smith’s associate to justify the ‘rent payments’ of $55,000.”
Schneider said because of Smith’s conduct and his position at the time of the alleged crimes, prosecutors are seeking a prison sentence. They estimate a prison sentence between 15 and 21 months, but the official length will be determined by a judge.
You can listen to Schneider’s full comments below.