Former Macomb County District Attorney Eric Smith, accused of embezzling $ 600,000 in drug and confiscation-related funds, found himself across the legal aisle on Friday during a preliminary review of charges laid over a year ago.
Smith and Derek Miller, one of three co-defendants in the case, took their exams together at Clinton Township 41B District Court, with several witnesses and two days set aside for the hearing.
Two other defendants, former deputy chief prosecutor Benjamin Liston and businessman William Weber, have already pleaded guilty and are scheduled to testify against Smith. They must be condemned after having testified.
Smith faces 10 charges, including embezzlement and misconduct in the line of duty, for misuse of funds while in his former elected position. Miller, Smith’s former COO, is charged with misconduct in the line of duty and conspiring to do an illegal legal act.
Smith resigned in March 2020, less than a week after being indicted in the year-long investigation. He was first elected prosecutor in 2004 after having been deputy prosecutor since 1993.
Investigators found Smith and other defendants used the money to buy flowers and makeup for some secretaries, a security system for Smith’s home, garden benches for employee homes, a country club for the holidays, campaign expenses and more, according to the Michigan Attorney General. Office.
Smith, who had COVID-19 last year, appeared in court wearing a mask, one of the only people in the courtroom to do so for the in-person hearing. He was seated at a table with his lawyer, Miller, and Miller’s lawyer.
A deputy attorney general distributed thick binders filled with proposed exhibits at the start of the hearing.
Deputy Company Attorney Frank Krycia, who represents various county offices, testified first, speaking in the morning and relating how the county became aware of the four funds in question. He said “no public official can spend money unless it has been approved” by an appropriation order and the treasurer is the county banker.
Krycia said that neither the county treasurer nor the council of commissioners approved spending in the four funds from 2012 to 2018. He added that it is inappropriate for such funds to be used for flowers, funeral gifts. , donations and home security systems, among others.
Krycia said internal subpoenas had been issued and that in a circuit court file on the case, the prosecutor “requested that I destroy the evidence and not show it to third parties.”
Only one other witness, Joe Biondo, county deputy chief treasurer, testified before the review was adjourned until Tuesday. He was questioned, among other things, about a meeting that members of the prosecutor’s office, treasurer’s office and others had about the ownership or control of accounts at the Lansing Attorney General’s office in 2018.
In January, Smith pleaded guilty to obstructing justice in a separate bribe scheme in which authorities said he withdrew about $ 70,000 from his re-election account. He told a federal court judge he knew what he had done was wrong “and I did it anyway.”
“I fully accept responsibility for my actions,” Smith, 54, said at this plea hearing in United States District Court. âI acted alone. I acted for my own benefit. I deeply regret my actions and the shame I have brought to my wife, my children, the office I worked for for almost 30 years and the people of Macomb County. And I accept the punishment and the plea that is here before you today. “
Smith agreed to plead guilty to the obstruction of justice charge, with sentencing guidelines of 15 months to 21 months in prison, pursuant to a plea agreement with the federal government. He was not convicted in a federal court.
Federal officials said Smith stole $ 70,000 from a campaign fund and attempted to get a friend and two of his deputy prosecutors to make false statements to federal law enforcement officials and a large federal jury in connection with the criminal investigation. He is accused of concocting the bribe program, which took place between 2012 and 2019.
Michigan State Police initiated the embezzlement investigation under the direction of the Attorney General’s Office following a March 2019 request from County Director Mark Hackel. State Police raided Smith’s office and home that same year.
Liston, a former right-hand man to Smith, paid for personal laptops, travel expenses to his Arizona residence, and sound equipment with the money from the funds.
He pleaded guilty in September to three counts of tort of willful negligence on the part of a public officer in possession of public confidence. As part of his plea deal, Liston is to be sentenced to 60 days in the county jail, must relinquish his attorney’s license in Michigan, and must pay nearly $ 16,000 in restitution to the county.
He must also cooperate in the ongoing prosecution of the embezzlement case and, if requested, testify on Smith, including on Smith’s March 6, 2019 email to Liston regarding an audit ordered by the County of confiscation accounts.
Weber, owner of Weber Security Group, pleaded guilty last month to the felony charge of conspiring to unlawfully commit a legal act.
He admitted to forging an invoice at Smith’s request for the installation of a security system at Smith’s home in Macomb Township to make it appear as if it had been installed at the Mount Clemens district attorney’s office, according to the attorney general’s office.
He said Smith asked Weber to produce the fake bill in response to a subpoena in a pending circuit court action and that the bill masked that his home security system was paid for with the Duke’s money. county. Weber paid $ 23,960 in restitution.
Judge Cynthia Arvant, of the 46th Southfield District Court, is assigned to the four cases.
Contact Christina Hall: [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @challreporter.
Support local journalism. Subscribe to Free press.