Feds seek 21-month sentence for ex-Macomb prosecutor in obstruction case

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The federal government is seeking a 21-month prison sentence for disgraced former Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith, arguing he led a lengthy fraud scheme, abused his position, pushed subordinates to lie and obstructed justice.

"Smith’s crimes were serious, extensive, and damaging," the U.S. Attorney's Office wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court.

"... He had power, prestige, and influence that came with being an elected official. But, sadly, this was not enough. Motivated by greed, he used his position to line his pockets with money that did not belong to him, and worse yet, to force others to lie to law enforcement for him. Moreover, his crimes were calculated, and repetitive — hardly the product of a momentary lapse in judgment."

Former Macomb County prosecutor Eric Smith

Smith, who resigned from office in March 2020 amid state charges that he misused county funds taken from lawbreakers in drug and drunken driving cases, pleaded guilty early last year in federal court to obstructing justice.

The charge followed a federal investigation that found the Democrat from Macomb Township conducted two fraud schemes to steal cash from his political campaign fund to use for personal expenses between 2012 and 2020.

The U.S. Attorney's Office reported that as part of his guilty plea, Smith admitted that he had stolen more than $74,000 from his campaign fund through the schemes.

In one, Smith wrote fraudulent checks to a friend worth nearly $55,000 between 2012 and 2019 for non-existent rent, "all of which was campaign money illegally diverted to Smith’s personal use," the sentencing memo Wednesday said.

The second involved Smith writing a $20,000 campaign fund check in 2016 to an assistant Macomb County prosecutor, according to the document. Some $15,000 was "kicked back" to Smith, who told his colleague he needed the sum to help finance an in-ground pool at home, prosecutors wrote.

He later asked the friend and assistant county prosecutor, as well as a third person, to lie to FBI investigators and possibly commit perjury before a grand jury, according to the memo.

"This conduct is the very definition of obstruction of justice and undermines the entire criminal justice system," the U.S. Attorney's Office said. "Any elected official who obstructs justice betrays the trust placed in them by their voters. But it is particularly egregious when that official was elected to enforce the law, because it undermines the very system that he was elected to protect."

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said his lack of criminal history, public service, employment history in law enforcement as well as family ties and responsibilities are not sufficient reasons to justify a sentence below the guideline range.

As a prosecutor first elected in 2004, "Smith acted as if the law did not apply to him. He stole money and used his position of trust and authority to cover up his crimes," the filing said. "While the total value of his theft was slightly less than $75,000, the intangible harm that Smith caused by abusing the trust of the citizens is incalculable. His crimes have eroded public confidence in public officials and our legal system."

An attorney listed as representing Smith did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

A sentencing hearing was scheduled for Feb. 16 with U.S. District Judge Linda Parker, federal court records show.

When pleading guilty last year, Smith said he was ashamed and regretted the grief he has caused his wife and children, and an office he had devoted 30 years to.

“I fully accept responsibility for my actions,” he said during a video conference with the judge and attorneys. "... I knew it was wrong and I did it anyway."

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

Nessel's office has said the funds were allegedly used to buy flowers and cosmetics for select secretaries in Smith's office, a security system at his residence, garden benches outside staffers’ homes and country club catering, among other expenses.

Smith was the highest-ranking public official charged in a crackdown on public corruption in Macomb County.

On Friday, a judge ruled Smith would stand trial on 10 felony counts — five counts of embezzlement and one count each of conspiracy to commit forgery, accessory to a felony after the fact, evidence tampering, conducting a criminal enterprise and misconduct in office.

The criminal enterprise count carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

Also in court last week, Derek Miller, a former aide to Smith, was ordered to stand trial on a pair of five-year felony charges including misconduct in office and conspiracy to commit a legal act in an illegal manner.

Circuit Court arraignments for Smith and Miller were scheduled on Feb. 28.