Detroit — Disgraced former Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith is set to be sentenced Wednesday in federal court after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice in a lengthy fraud scheme.
The federal government is seeking a 21-year prison sentence for Smith, arguing he abused his position, pushed subordinates to lie and obstructed justice.
“Smith’s crimes were serious, extensive, and damaging,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed last week in U.S. District Court.
“… He had power, prestige, and influence that came with being an elected official. But, sadly, this was not enough. Motivated by greed, he used his position to line his pockets with money that did not belong to him, and worse yet, to force others to lie to law enforcement for him. Moreover, his crimes were calculated, and repetitive — hardly the product of a momentary lapse in judgment.”
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.
He also resigned from office amid state charges that he misused county funds taken from lawbreakers in drug and drunken driving cases, pleaded guilty early last year in federal court to obstructing justice.
The charge followed a federal investigation that found the Democrat from Macomb Township conducted two fraud schemes to steal cash from his political campaign fund to use for personal expenses between 2012 and 2020.
When pleading guilty in January 2021, Smith said he was ashamed and regretted the grief he has caused his wife and children, and an office he had devoted 30 years to.
“I fully accept responsibility for my actions,” he said at the time. “… I knew it was wrong and I did it anyway.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has said as part of his guilty plea, Smith admitted that he had stolen more than $74,000 from his campaign fund through the schemes.
In one, Smith wrote fraudulent checks to a friend worth nearly $55,000 between 2012 and 2019 for non-existent rent, “all of which was campaign money illegally diverted to Smith’s personal use,” last week’s sentencing memo noted.
The second involved Smith writing a $20,000 campaign fund check in 2016 to an assistant Macomb County prosecutor, according to the document.
Some $15,000 was “kicked back” to Smith, who told his colleague he needed the sum to help finance an in-ground pool at home, prosecutors wrote.
Smith later asked the friend and assistant county prosecutor, as well as a third person, to lie to FBI investigators and possibly commit perjury before a grand jury, according to the memo.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office has said Smith’s lack of criminal history, public service and his employment history in law enforcement are not sufficient reasons to justify a sentence below the guidelines, which range from 15 to 21 months.
He faces sentencing before U.S. District Judge Linda Parker.
Smith reached the plea deal to resolve federal charges stemming from a county corruption probe that spurred the Michigan Attorney General’s Office to file multiple charges alleging that he and three others participated in a scheme to embezzle $600,000 in county forfeiture funds.
Nessel’s office has said the funds were allegedly used to buy flowers and cosmetics for select secretaries in Smith’s office, a security system at his residence, garden benches outside staffers’ homes and country club catering, among other expenses.
Earlier this month, a judge ruled Smith would stand trial in state court on 10 felony counts including conducting a criminal enterprise and misconduct in office.
Derek Miller, a former aide to Smith, also was ordered to stand trial on a pair of five-year felony charges including misconduct in office and conspiracy to commit a legal act in an illegal manner.
Circuit court arraignments for Smith and Miller are scheduled for Feb. 28.