LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

Mount Clemens — Several Macomb County leaders are questioning whether thousands of dollars in forfeiture funds collected by the county prosecutor’s office were used for inappropriate expenditures, including donations to churches and charities, trips, parties and even the filming of a television commercial.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Treasurer Larry Rocco are calling on the Macomb County Board of Commissioners to conduct a forensic audit of Prosecutor Eric Smith’s forfeiture fund. That would require approval by eight of the 13 commissioners, who are expected to take up the matter at a Feb. 20 finance committee meeting.

So far, there has been no response to that request, Hackel told The Detroit News on Friday.

“I have not heard from the prosecutor nor one person on the board regarding my request,” Hackel said. “It's not something up for debate or in question. A judge has ruled he (Smith) cannot be writing checks with taxpayer funds without proper approval or backup documents supporting the expense.

“He definitely can’t be writing checks to churches or charities. If you do something like that, you would have them lined up outside the office (for checks).”

Neither Smith nor his spokesperson returned calls Friday. In a Facebook video posted Thursday, Smith defended his office's handling of forfeiture funds.

"These lawful funds, paid for by repeat drunk drivers and convicted drug dealers, are used to combat crime and keep our community safe," Smith said. "And I am very proud of that statement. Furthermore, no tax revenue of any kind is used in the funding of these accounts."

Questions over the prosecutor office's spending practices were raised by Jared Maynard, the former chairman of the Macomb County Republican party, who sued the county to obtain bank records for accounts Smith’s office set up for funds from forfeitures and bad checks.

A Detroit News review of hundreds of checks that have passed through the account in the past two years indicates that many sizable amounts were made out to various police agencies in Macomb County that are supposed to share in forfeiture funds related to arrests in their communities.

The review by The News of 2017 and 2018 expenditures also found these examples, among others: 

  • Monthly bills ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 to Webb Security.
  • Hefty monthly bills for DirecTV, bottled water and other services.
  • Monthly bills, at least one totaling $20,000, for Chase Card Services.
  • More than $35,000 in Verizon and Verizon Wireless bills.
  • An $18,700 check to Barlow Communications for “Teens Threat of Terrorism/Commercial.”
  • A $10,766 check to American Express, for “Best/Buy/Equip.”
  • A $22,090 check to Greco By Design for “Office Furniture.”
  • A $927.50 check to ABC Warehouse for “Frig For Break Room.”
  • $3,910 for computer flash drive storage devices.
  • $13,000 for travel and hotel to the Mackinac Island Policy Conference.

Hackel said that under Smith, who has been county prosecutor for 15 years, spending from the forfeiture account has not been properly supervised.

“I can’t explain why the County Board of Commissioners hasn’t acted on this before now,” Hackel said. “It apparently wasn’t a concern of the previous treasurer.”

Smith’s brother, Bob, is chairman of the 13-member board, which consists of five Republicans and eight Democrats.

Bob Smith has to share responsibility if an audit isn’t approved, Maynard said.

“It doesn’t matter what you call these accounts, they still contain public funds,” Maynard said. “Forfeitures come from criminal cases and impounded cars in drunk driving cases. Bad check prosecutions often involve making restitution. Funds obtained from offenders are supposed to go back into law enforcement efforts, not where someone believes they should be spent.

“... This needs to be reviewed not only by the county board and a forensic audit but eventually, I believe, it will deserve attention by an outside agency for possible crimes. If crimes were committed, then someone should be prosecuted.”

Maynard’s attorney, Frank Cusumano Jr., is scheduled to be before Macomb Circuit Judge Edward Servitto on Monday for a hearing on requested records he still has not received from Smith. Cusumano described the forfeiture account as Smith’s “private slush fund, which he used for whatever he wanted."

Servitto ruled Jan. 7 that the records in question were public under the state's Freedom of Information Act.

    Hackel noted that the county government has been "touting transparency and sound practices to provide citizens with the best government and services.”

    “That’s not happening here," said the executive, who noted their concern is "nonpartisan” regarding Smith, a fellow Democrat. “A judge (Servitto) who ruled on this is a Democrat. This is about good government and good practices.”

    mmartindale@detroitnews.com

    (248) 338-0319

    LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
    Read or Share this story: https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/macomb-county/2019/01/25/hackel-seeks-audit-macomb-prosecutors-spending/2683210002/