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Oak Park — Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith was arraigned and granted a $100,000 personal bond Friday in a criminal case regarding an alleged scheme to embezzle $600,000 in county funds, while his attorney called the charges against him "a piece of crap."

Smith, 53, and co-defendant Benjamin Liston, a former assistant prosecutor, both entered the Michigan State Police North Post in Oak Park shortly before 9 a.m. to be fingerprinted and photographed, according to the Michigan Attorney General's Office, which announced charges against them and two others Tuesday.

Two others have been charged: Smith's chief of operations Derek Miller and businessman William Weber.

More: Macomb County prosecutor, others charged with scheme to embezzle $600K

"He (Smith) has pleaded not guilty to the charges that are baseless and unfounded," said attorney Martin Crandall, who accompanied Smith to the video arraignment, conducted in 41B District Court by Judge Cynthia Arvant of Southfield’s 46th District Court.

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Macomb Co. Prosecutor Eric Smith's co-council Martin Crandall addresses the media outside MSP post The Detroit News

Arvant told Smith not to travel out of the state or speak to co-defendants or witnesses. 

Crandall told reporters Smith "has been a good prosecutor and will be a good prosecutor."

"We will show these are politically oriented charges," said Crandall, who said the racketeering allegations are "...ridiculous. This is a piece of crap."

While Crandall was talking to reporters outside the state police post, Smith's other attorney, John Dakmak, drove a vehicle around to another side of the building, where it is believed he picked up Smith.

Smith is scheduled for a probable cause conference at 8:30 a.m. April 3 and a preliminary exam at 8:30 a.m. April 9 in 41B District Court. The hearings may be done remotely, according to the Michigan Attorney General's Office. 

Liston waived his probable cause conference and was given a $100,000 personal bond, ordered to surrender his passport, and to have no contact with co-defendants or witnesses. His preliminary examination will take place on April 9 at 8:30 a.m.

Attorney David Griem, who represents Liston, said his client “is innocent” and later added, “this is a sad day.”

Smith, 53, a Democrat who was first elected prosecutor in 2004, is charged with 10 counts, including conspiracy to commit forgery, embezzlement, tampering with evidence and criminal enterprise, according to court records. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of conducting a criminal enterprise, which would be one of the longest sentences ever given to a Metro Detroit public official.

Liston, 58, faces four counts, including conducting a criminal enterprise and embezzlement. Miller, 36, is charged with conspiracy while Weber, 38, is charged with crimes ranging from forgery to aiding and abetting. 

Both Smith and Liston declined comment.

The state had sought a $250,000 personal bond for Smith. Personal bonds only have to be paid if a defendant does not show up to court. 

Smith's defense team argued there is "no reason to limit his movement within the United States," but the judge disagreed. He can't leave Michigan, and if he has a passport, will have to surrender it.

Dakmak argued that not allowing Smith to conduct normal business would "hamstring" the Macomb County Prosecutor's Office, which is operating remotely during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

There was disagreement on whether Smith should be able to have contact with Miller, who is not only a co-defendant but "basically, next in line on the day-to-day operations," as one of Smith's attorneys described him.

The state noted that just as Miller had been appointed to his role, others had in the past, and could be now if the need arose. 

Smith's team argued that in the midst of the coronavirus, with the staff largely working remotely, this is no time for an interim operations chief if Miller couldn't be in contact with Smith.

"The prosecutor's office does need to function," Arvant said.

But she added that "the risk of treading into inappropriate territory is great" if the two can speak. She said she would require Smith to have no contact with Miller or talk with three other employees of the prosecutor's office who were named as witnesses on matters related to the case.

The state Attorney General's Office has accused the four of conducting a conspiracy to misappropriate $600,000 from asset forfeiture funds collected from defendants in drunken driving and drug cases.

Smith supervised special asset forfeiture funds that are to be used for law enforcement purposes. An investigation by the Michigan State Police found funds were allegedly used for other purposes, including charities, holiday parties, office equipment and high-end surveillance equipment for Smith’s home.

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