Ex-Macomb County prosecutor sentenced to 21 months in fraud scheme

Detroit — Disgraced former Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith cried Wednesday and apologized for his "poor choice" before he was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for obstruction of justice in a lengthy fraud scheme.

Smith, 55, of Macomb Township, appeared in federal court for sentencing before Judge Linda V. Parker on charges that he took just under $75,000 from his campaign fund in a kickback scheme from 2012-2019. Smith had pleaded guilty to the charge last year. 

Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith leaves the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse in Detroit on Feb. 16, 2022, after he was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for obstruction of justice in a lengthy fraud scheme.

Macomb County's former top prosecutor called the crime a "very poor choice and very poor decision," and told the judge "I did the worst thing I could do and covered it up."

Parker handed down the sentence for Smith's "incalculable harm to the criminal justice system" at the close of an hour and a half hearing. 

He must report to U.S. Marshals within 90 days for his prison term, pay a fine of $20,000 immediately, and a forfeiture of $69,950, the judge said. The sentence is the maximum penalty by the federal government for obstruction of justice. 

The federal government sought the 21-month sentence for Smith, arguing he abused his position and pushed subordinates to lie.

Upon release, Smith must be under supervision for at least 18 months.

In a 12-minute speech, Smith told Parker that his life’s mission "was to help those who can’t help themselves” and pleaded with Parker to allow him more time to focus on his family.

Attorney John Dakmak said in defense of Smith that “No justice was for sale,” when Smith served as the chief law enforcement officer for one of the largest counties in Michigan for 16 years.

Smith had 16 letters of support issued on his behalf, including one from an elected Macomb County sheriff who noted Smith should get credit for cooperating with the investigation. 

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Moran said the letters shouldn't be taken into account due to vague commonalities stating Smith had "a moral compass, that he’s trustworthy and protects their community." 

"At least four letters talking about vacationing in his cabin… They did not know he dragged three assistant prosecutors in his web of lies and tried to cover up for his lies," Moran told the judge. 

Dakmak argued Wednesday for home confinement saying that's “as severe as it needs to be” particularly looking at Smith's physical well-being. Dakmak said Smith has been quiet about his medical conditions and complications he endures as a Type 1 diabetic for 25 years with an insulin pump as well as ulcerative colitis and having contracted COVID-19 twice. 

Smith's ailments didn't sway Parker, who noted "the prisons have facilities to address the medical services he needs."

Parker said Wednesday despite notable contributions from Smith over time to the county and his work aiding challenged youth, "his deeds, in this case, are egregious."

Parker said she doesn’t believe Smith will commit other criminal behavior but "no one is above the law." 

"While this has not been a violent crime, this is a crime that has hurt the public’s trust," she said. 

Smith's family exited the courtroom around 1:30 p.m. in tears, holding one another and saying they felt sorry for him.

Outside the courthouse, Smith's attorney Martin Crandall declined further comment, saying "we’re not going to argue with the judge out here."

Smith exited the courthouse about an hour later, immediately got into a dark gray Ford pickup driven by Crandall, and left without addressing questions from reporters. 

Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith leaves the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse, in Detroit, February 16, 2022 after he was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for obstruction of justice in a lengthy fraud scheme.

U.S. Attorney Dawn Ison reiterated Parker's comments to The Detroit News outside the courthouse after Smith's sentencing. She said his misconduct was "too egregious to ignore" and that a sentence at the top of the guidelines is appropriate.

"It is exactly what we wanted and it should send a clear message that no one, not even a person elected at the highest level of government entrusted with enforcing the law and protecting the community from the very crimes he committed is above the law," Ison said. "He was held accountable and everyone that acts like him will be held accountable."

Smith resigned from office in March 2020 amid state charges of embezzlement, forgery and misconduct in office in connection with $600,000 in forfeiture funds taken from people charged in drug and drunk driving incidents.

He pleaded guilty early last year in federal court to obstructing justice.

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

When pleading guilty in January 2021, 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 at the time. "... I knew it was wrong and I did it anyway."

The U.S. Attorney's Office has said 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 instance, 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," last week's sentencing memo from federal prosecutors noted. 

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.

Smith 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.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has said Smith's lack of criminal history, public service and his employment history in law enforcement were not sufficient reasons to justify a sentence below the guidelines, which ranged from 15 to 21 months. 

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.

Earlier this month, a judge ruled Smith would stand trial in state court on 10 felony counts including conducting a criminal enterprise and misconduct in office. 

Derek Miller, a former aide to Smith, also 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 are scheduled for Feb. 28.