State police to investigate Macomb County prosecutor's spending

Macomb County prosecutor Eric Smith

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has asked the Michigan State Police to investigate the handling of asset forfeiture funds by the Macomb County Prosecutor's Office.

"We’re in the very early stages now, and because it’s an open investigation, we won’t be providing any more information than that," MSP spokesman Lt. Michael Shaw, said Monday.

County Executive Mark Hackel last month asked Nessel's office to investigate the funds and "provided backup information and records," said attorney general spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney.

"We have forwarded that information to the Michigan State Police, have asked them to conduct the actual investigation and have offered our assistance to them in any way," she said.    

Questions over spending from the funds, which total hundreds of thousands of dollars, were raised earlier this year after Jared Maynard, the former chairman of the Macomb County Republican Party, sued to obtain bank records for accounts set up by county Prosecutor Eric Smith.

Mark Hackel

The funding in the accounts come from forfeitures and bad checks.

In a statement Monday, Smith said he would cooperate with the state inquiry.

"We have only heard of the attorney general’s interest in this matter for the first time through the press," he said. "My office is ready to assist the Attorney General in any way we can. As a prosecutor, I personally understand the need for cooperation.

"Frankly, we believe there is a lot of misinformation about the use of these funds and we anticipate that the attorney general will see that these funds were used for legitimate and appropriate purposes," Smith said. "In deference to Attorney General Nessel, we won’t comment further until we hear more directly from her office. "

Macomb County Corporation Counsel John Schapka also pledged cooperation with the probe.

"Macomb County certainly welcomes an invest by the Michigan State Police and the Attorney General's office and will cooperate in every manner possible," he said.

In January, controversy ignited between Smith and Hackel after the county executive requested an audit of the funds.

Hackel held a news conference in February questioning a $600 expenditure from the fund that paid for an August 2017 golf outing for a charity that helps child victims of sexual and physical abuse and their families.

Bob Smith, the prosecutor's brother and chairman of the Macomb County Board of Commissioners attended the event with funds from the forfeiture fund, according to Hackel, who asked him to recuse himself from choosing the firm to conduct an audit of the fund.

Bob Smith abstained when the commissioners voted Feb. 27 to hire the Kalamazoo firm Yeo & Yeo to perform the audit.

Eric Smith has defended his office's spending and said he will ask the Board of Commissioners to conduct a forensic audit of the county executive's office and contracts he said have not had county oversight.

"It does not matter who the board chooses to do the forensic audit," Smith told The News last month. "Like we have said from Day One, we are open to the audit and all the money spent was spent on  legitimate law enforcement purposes and in accordance with the law."

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

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