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Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith and three government and business associates were charged numerous felony counts Tuesday for their alleged roles in an embezzlement scheme.
Smith, who faces up to 20 years in prison, is accused of misusing forfeiture funds over a five-year span to pay for office furniture, campaign expenditures, country club parties, a home security system, flowers, makeup for “select” secretaries, and garden benches for his staffers’ houses, according to the Michigan Attorney General's Office.
Also charged were Derek Miller, the county’s current assistant prosecutor and chief of operations; Benjamin Liston, retired Macomb County assistant prosecutor and former chief of operations; and businessman William Weber, who is accused of providing false invoices totaling nearly $28,000.
The extent of the associates’ roles in the alleged scheme was not immediately clear.
The Michigan Attorney General’s Office filed 10 felony counts against Smith, including embezzlement, conducting a criminal enterprise, misconduct in office, tampering with evidence in a civil proceeding, and using a computer to commit a crime.
“In order for citizens to maintain trust in the institutions of government, public officials must, at all times, conduct themselves in accordance with the laws of our state,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a news release. “When public officials fail to do so, the people must have confidence that they will be held to account, fairly, and without any special treatment based upon their status as a public official. The Department of Attorney General, will continue to work to protect this fundamental principle, that no one is above the law.”
On Monday, Smith defended his use of the funds.
“I have fully cooperated with the State Police Investigation from the day it began,” Smith said in a news release. “I will continue to do so. Furthermore, I stand by my previous statements that these forfeiture funds were spent appropriately in accordance with the law.”
The charges are the result of a one-year state police investigation that began when Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel filed a complaint with the Michigan Attorney General’s Office over Smith's use of forfeiture funds, which are supposed to be used to enhance public safety and security, not for personal enrichment.
The Macomb County Board of Commissioners approved a forensic audit of the expenditures in February.
Michigan State Police raided Smith’s office in April and his home in May.
“As Attorney General, I take no responsibility more seriously than protecting the public trust,” Nessel said. “The reason is simple: Without public trust, government fails. Without public trust, justice stands no chance against reckless abuses of power.”
If Smith doesn’t resign as prosecutor — a position he's held since 2004 — he could be removed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer or through an action of the Macomb County Board of Commissioners and its chairman, Bob Smith, who is also Eric Smith’s brother.
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