Hearing resumes for ex-Macomb County prosecutor on embezzlement scheme

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Clinton Township — A county commissioner and former office manager for ex-Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith shared details Thursday of an inner-office fund that Smith is accused of tapping for personal expenses.

Jennifer Meech, who'd worked as an office manager for Smith's administration, testified during Smith's continuing preliminary examination in Mount Clemens District Court that for expenditures for the office required detailed forms to be completed, authorized and reviewed. But four accounts or funds, she said, Smith tapped or directed to be used for some expenses.

Macomb County Commissioner Robert Leonetti also testified Thursday, saying in 2016 when he was running for office, Derek Miller, a top aide of Smith's who also faces criminal charges, told him of a fund in the prosecutor’s office that belonged in the county’s general fund.

Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith was charged in March 2020 with embezzlement, forgery and misconduct in office in connection with $600,000 in forfeiture funds taken from persons charged in drug and drunk driving incidents.

Miller, who at the time was running for treasurer, didn’t elaborate, Leonetti said.

“We were to discuss it later after the election but never did,” Leonetti testified.

Smith was charged in March 2020 with embezzlement, forgery and misconduct in office in connection with $600,000 in forfeiture funds taken from persons charged in drug and drunk driving incidents. 

Smith resigned his post after Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel issued a total of 10 counts, including conspiracy, tampering with evidence and criminal enterprise. Michigan State Polcie raided Smith's office in April 2020 and his home in May 2020 as part of the investigation. 

The funds Smith is accused of using are intended for law enforcement purposes but according to investigators, Smith allegedly used them for personal reasons ranging from throwing parties for staffers, buying gifts, and having a sophisticated surveillance system installed at his Macomb Township home.

Smith allegedly had four accounts called "bad check restitution," "OWI forfeiture," "Warren drug court," and "drug forfeiture" that he maintained on his own without county treasurer oversight. 

Two others — former assistant prosecutor Benjamin Liston and Macomb County businessman William Weber — formerly pleaded guilty to related charges and are testifying against Smith. They have not been sentenced.

A county audit and internal investigation revealed inappropriate spending in 2018. 

At a hearing this summer, Weber, who owns an electronics company, said Smith had him install a home security system at his home. Smith allegedly told him he feared it might hurt his image and damage him politically if it became public knowledge.

Smith, 54, had been an assistant prosecutor before elected to the top job in 2004.

In January, Smith pleaded guilty to federal obstruction of justice charges related to the improper use of $70,000 from his reelection fund and attempting to get a friend and two former assistant prosecutors to lie to a grand jury.

Under the plea agreement, he's expected to serve between 15 months to 21 months in prison. Sentencing before U.S. District Judge Linda Parker is set for Nov. 18.

If found guilty of the state charges, Smith faces up to 20 years in prison. He remains free on bond.

The hearing will continue on Nov. 19.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

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