Ex-Macomb County prosecutor Eric Smith faces sentencing for obstruction charge

Smith pleaded guilty to 1 count of obstruction of justice in 2021

Former Macomb County prosecutor Eric Smith is scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday for sentencing after pleading guilty in an embezzling case.

DETROIT – Former Macomb County prosecutor Eric Smith is set to be sentenced Wednesday afternoon after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice in connection with a corruption scandal and investigation.

Smith faces a list of corruption charges in connection with his time in office, but most recently pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of justice in January 2021. Officials said Smith admitted that he tried to get a friend and two assistant county prosecutors to make false statements to federal law enforcement officers and a federal grand jury during an investigation into his conduct.

Smith also admitting to stealing over $74,000 from his campaign fund through two different fraud schemes. He will pay $69,950 in restitution.

Smith is scheduled to be sentenced for the obstruction of justice charge at noon on Wednesday, Feb. 16, at the U.S. District Court in Detroit. The violation is a felony and carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years.

The former prosecutor is facing 10 other criminal corruption charges following Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s investigation into his handling of forfeiture funds, which were supposed to be used for specific police and law enforcement activities.

Smith is facing the following charges:

  • 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.

Earlier this month, a judge in Clinton Township ordered Smith to stand trial on the embezzlement charges.

More: Former Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith ordered to trial in corruption case

Former Macomb County assistant prosecutor and chief of operations Benjamin Liston has also pleaded guilty to three counts of neglect of duty in the embezzlement scheme, lesser charges than he previously faced, officials said. He agreed to testify against Smith and will be sentenced after giving his testimony.

Current Macomb County assistant prosecutor and chief of operations Derek Miller has also been charged with one count of official misconduct in office and one count of conspiracy to commit a legal act in an illegal manner in connection with the embezzlement investigation.

Related: Co-defendant testifies against former Macomb County prosecutor Eric Smith in embezzlement case

Smith was first elected Macomb County’s prosecuting attorney in 2004. He gained recognition during the 2007 Tara Grant murder case. He resigned from the role in March of 2020 amid the investigation.

Embezzlement case background

AG Nessel offered the following background into the embezzlement investigation in a press release last year:

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.

About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.