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Ex-Macomb prosecutor Smith pleads guilty to obstruction

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Former Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of obstructing justice in a probe of alleged misuse of  $70,000 in campaign funds for his own personal use.

Smith, 54, resigned last spring amid state charges that he misused $600,000 in county funds taken from lawbreakers in drug and drunken driving cases. His plea Wednesday was to a federal charge, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Prosecutors have said they wanted Smith to serve a prison sentence and advisory guidelines call for between 15 and 21 months incarceration. Under his plea agreement, Smith will be disbarred and must pay nearly $70,000.

The obstruction charge alleged Smith tried to push a friend and two former assistant county prosecutors to lie to a federal grand jury and FBI investigators who concluded he was behind two fraud schemes involving $75,000 from his political campaign fund. Smith allegedly used the money for personal expenses from 2012 to last year.

“I fully accept responsibility for my actions,” a contrite Smith said during a video conference with U.S. District Judge Linda Parker and attorneys.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said Smith has admitted he wrote checks to an associate supposedly for nonexistent office space rent and was "kicked back" about $75,000 in cash. He later asked three people, including two assistant county prosecutors, to lie to FBI investigators and possibly commit perjury before a grand jury.

"I knew it was wrong and I did it anyway," Smith told Parker.

Smith said he was ashamed and regretted the grief he has caused his wife and children and an office to which he had devoted 30 years of his life.

Smith reached the plea deal to resolve federal charges stemming from a county corruption probe that led to the Michigan Attorney General’s Office filing multiple charges alleging that Smith and three others participated in a scheme to embezzle $600,000 in county forfeiture funds.

Smith, a Democrat who was prosecutor from 2004 until resigning, is the highest-ranking public official charged in a crackdown on public corruption in Macomb County.

Former Macomb County prosecutor Eric Smith resigned in March 2020 amid a corruption investigation.

His plea hearing had been moved several times, including in November when he was diagnosed with COVID-19 and hospitalized. On Wednesday, he thanked Parker for several adjournments and explained he was bedridden with the virus and had "never been as sick in my life." Smith said he was wearing an insulin pump on Wednesday.

Parker set an April 27 sentencing date after accepting Smith's plea, which she noted was the same as being found guilty following a trial. It will will place a felony conviction on his record that will bar him from voting, possessing a firearm or holding public office.

Smith remains free on bond pending the sentencing and a hearing on the state charges set for April 21 in 41B District Court in Clinton Township. He faces multiple counts, including conducting a criminal enterprise, forgery, embezzlement and tampering with evidence, that carry up to 20 years in prison.

Since 2016, federal prosecutors have secured the convictions of more than 20 contractors and public officials in connection with public corruption in Macomb County, 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.