Selweski: Macomb Executive Sees 'Dark Cloud' Ahead from Look at Prosecutor's Secret Spending

October 30, 2019, 6:29 AM by  Chad Selweski

Corruption evidence against Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith is mounting and will amount to "another dark cloud over the county" when federal investigators release their findings, says County Executive Mark Hackel.

Smith is now under investigation by the FBI, Michigan State Police and the IRS for alleged misuse of public funds, as Hackel tells it. Financial accounts under scrutiny include one receiving fines for people passing bad checks and another for fines and fees issued by local drug courts, according to the executive.

That revelation goes beyond allegations last spring that Smith had illegally used up to $1.8 million in money and property from penalties imposed on drug dealers and drunken drivers.

Eric Smith was elected prosecutor in 2004. (Photo: Macomb County)

"When this all comes out, it's not going to be a pleasant day, I can assure you," the county executive said Tuesday while addressing a Macomb Community College class in Clinton Township.

Smith, the county’s top cop since being elected prosecutor in 2004, is a longtime political ally and friend of Hackel's. Both Democrats are recognized statewide as officials with potential for higher office.

But Hackel went public with concerns about Smith's secretive spending in March after a Freedom of Information Act request by former Macomb County Republican Party chairman Jared Maynard unveiled strange spending patterns by the prosecutor’s office over several years.

Slush fund?

Documents showed that Smith spent county funds to upgrade his office, his home and to boost his public reputation. State law says these funds are for law enforcement efforts.

Smith, a Macomb Township Democrat, is accused of treating the money like a slush fund. He denies wrongdoing.

Since a state police search of the prosecutor’s office in April, Smith has lawyered up and few new details have emerged.

Hackel, a former Macomb County sheriff, said he can't discuss updates in the cases while criminal investigations continue.  

Still, Hackel said the elaborate security equipment at Smith’s luxurious home was allegedly paid for with public funds. State police seized $161,000 worth of cameras and other equipment in May at the house after Smith engaged in a bizarre series of payouts to a local security firm from 2012-17.

Troubling aspects of the prosecutor’s office annual audits showed up about two years ago, indicating money from several funds had been spent without oversight by the county Board of Commissioners or the county treasurer. In each case, Hackel said, the alarm bells sounded by auditors were greeted with silence by Smith.

Alleged personal spending

Hackel’s remarks came at a forum for the Society of Active Retirees (SOAR) at the college’s University Center.

At this point, Smith is accused of spending hundreds of thousands of county dollars or more for his office on:

  • Unspecified credit card purchases

  • Cell phone bills

  • Satellite TV service

  • Furniture and refrigerators

  • Office parties

In addition, hundreds of pages of financial documents made public show that Smith donated about $100,000 designated for crime-fighting activities to Catholic churches, schools and charities, such as the Kiwanis and Goodfellows.

All the money was supposed to be dedicated to law enforcement since it came from asset forfeitures, which let police and prosecutors seize cash and property from those arrested on drug offenses, and cars from repeat drunken driving offenders.

Stacks of documents also show irregular expenditures that go far beyond charge cards and phone bills.

$775 at a coffee shop

Hundreds of dollars were paid for flowers at a funeral. About $200 monthly was expended on bottled water for the prosecutor’s staff. In 2014, Smith somehow spent $775 from the funds at a Ferndale coffee shop called Capuccino Man. A year later, he dished out $780 at a cheesecake shop.

Smith has become the latest potential culprit in a wide-ranging Macomb County corruption scandal that has brought down nearly 20 people – elected officials, appointees, attorneys and contractors – on charges such as bribery and fraud.

A prime target of the feds, Dino Bucci, a former Macomb Township trustee and deputy commissioner of the county public works department, has dragged out his case on numerous indictments -- bribery, extortion, fraud, theft and money laundering – for nearly two years. He recently reached an agreement with federal authorities to become a cooperating witness in exchange for a plea bargain that will result in limited prison time.

Hackel voiced dismay at the delaying tactics by Bucci and others tied up in the scandal, and he suggested that Smith, his longtime ally, might be taking the same approach.

"The way of doing things has become 'lie, deny and you’ll get by,'" he said.

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