Ex-Macomb prosecutor Eric Smith begins federal sentence as he appears on state charges

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Pontiac – One day before Eric J. Smith was to begin serving a federal prison sentence, the disgraced ex-Macomb County prosecutor appeared for a virtual pretrial hearing Wednesday on related state charges that he embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug and drunken driving forfeiture funds and used them as a personal slush fund.

Eric J. Smith

The hearing, held on Zoom, was strictly procedural with Oakland Circuit Judge Nanci Grant being notified there continue to be “ongoing” negotiations between Smith’s defense attorney, John Dakmak, and state assistant attorney general Mike Frezza on a possible plea agreement to resolve the case but there has been no resolution.

Grant noted there have been discussions for three months and hoped this wasn’t a delay tactic to permit Smith, 55, of Macomb Township to complete his 21-month federal sentence before appearing on state charges. Dakmak declined Frezza’s request regarding where the federal sentence will be served stating “there is a sincere concern for his (Smith’s) safety.”

Grant advised attorneys she will send out orders this week stating the final pretrial and trial dates for Smith. Grant noted Smith’s actual trial will be conducted in Macomb Circuit Court with Macomb County residents “as his peers” and presumably jury.

Smith resigned as Macomb prosecutor in March 2020 after a Michigan State Police probe uncovered evidence he misdirected more than $600,000 of funds designated for law enforcement purposes to parties, gifts and a personal security system at his home. That evidence is the basis for the state charges.

Smith, who was Macomb’s top law enforcement officer for 15 years, has already pleaded guilty in federal court of attempting to obstruct justice in two separate schemes and will begin serving a 21-month prison sentence on Thursday. Smith admitted attempting to influence the testimony of witnesses against him.

In the federal case, Smith pleaded guilty in January 2021, in U.S. District Court to obstructing justice by attempting to get a friend and two of his assistant county prosecutors to make false statements to federal law enforcement officers and a federal grand jury in a federal criminal investigation of Smith's own criminal conduct.

Federal records detailed how between 2012 and 2020, an FBI investigation determined Smith had used two fraud schemes to take $75,000 cash from his political campaign fund for personal use. When he became aware of a federal grand jury investigation in 2019, Smith pressured three witnesses to lie and commit perjury on his behalf to federal authorities and a federal grand jury.

Grant is serving as a visiting judge in the Macomb case after the Macomb circuit bench recused themselves of hearing the state matter. Smith faces 10 felony charges, including embezzlement, conspiracy to commit forgery, evidence tampering, conspiracy of a criminal enterprise and misconduct in office.

Three of Smith’s former associates – Derek Miller, his top chief assistant prosecutor; Benjamin Liston, his chief operating officer; and William Weber, owner of a Macomb electronics business that installed Smith’s home security system – have all pleaded guilty to related offenses and cooperating in Smith’s prosecution in exchange for reduced charges and are awaiting sentencing.

The state charges carry up to 20 years in prison. State assistant attorney general Mike Frezza told Grant on Wednesday that sentencing guidelines call for between 57 and 95 months.

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

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