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Feds delay guilty plea from ex-Macomb prosecutor Smith due to COVID-19 quarantine

Robert Snell
The Detroit News

Detroit — Former Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith will not plead guilty to corruption-related criminal charges Wednesday because he is in quarantine after his family was exposed to people who tested positive for the coronavirus.

The quarantine, revealed in a federal court filing Tuesday, delays the conviction of the highest-ranking public official charged in a years-long crackdown on public corruption in Macomb County.

Macomb County prosecutor Eric Smith

"(Smith's) family has been in very recent direct personal contact with two individuals who have each subsequently tested positive for COVID 19," prosecutors and defense lawyers wrote in a court filing Tuesday. "Defendant and his immediate family are now in quarantine at their home."

Since 2016, federal prosecutors have secured the convictions of 22 contractors and public officials, including former Clinton Township Trustee Dean Reynolds, trash mogul Chuck Rizzo and towing titan Gasper Fiore. Former county Public Works Commissioner Anthony Marrocco is awaiting trial on federal corruption charges.

Smith, a 53-year-old Democrat from Macomb Township, has agreed to plead guilty to obstructing a federal investigation into whether he stole campaign funds, capping a steep fall for one of the region's top law enforcement officials.

His plea hearing in front of U.S. District Judge Linda Parker was reset for Nov. 13.

He was charged in September with one count of obstruction of justice, a 20-year felony. The criminal charge followed a prolonged period of turmoil for Smith that included a raid at his home, his resignation seven months ago and questions about whether he illegally spent campaign money.

Smith tried to get a friend and two unidentified assistant county prosecutors to lie to a federal grand jury and FBI investigators who concluded he orchestrated two fraud schemes to steal $75,000 from his political campaign fund, prosecutors said. Smith used the money for personal expenses from 2012 to this year, authorities allege.

The case against Smith focuses on lies and campaign cash. Smith controlled the campaign fund, telling donors the money would be used for his reelection, U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said.

Michigan State Police Lt. Michael Shaw (left) and Lt. Darren Green stand outside the home of Macomb County prosecutor Eric Smith while their fellow officers raid Eric Smith's home on Tuesday, May 14, 2019.

"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 used it for his own personal whims."

Prosecutors want Smith to serve a prison sentence. Advisory guidelines call for 15-21 months in federal prison, Schneider said.

Smith reached the plea deal to resolve a corruption investigation that coincided with a separate state probe that in March led to the Michigan Attorney General's Office filing racketeering charges against the county's top law enforcement officer.

Smith and three others were accused of participating in a scheme to embezzle $600,000 in county forfeiture funds.

rsnell@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @RobertSnellnews