Former prosecutor charged with obstruction of justice

15-21 month prison sentence sought

By: Alex Szwarc | C&G Newspapers | Published September 22, 2020

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MACOMB COUNTY — Following a year in which he was charged with 10 felonies by the state of Michigan and resigned from office, a former top elected official has been federally charged.  

On Sept. 9, former Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith, 53, was charged with one count of obstruction of justice.

The news was announced in a video by Matthew Schneider, U.S. attorney for Eastern District of Michigan.

“The allegations are in connection with his official duties as the elected county prosecutor, and chief law enforcement official for Macomb County, Mr. Smith encouraged at least two assistant prosecuting attorneys to lie to the FBI,” Schneider said.

Schneider added that the purpose of the lies was so Smith, of Macomb Township, could obstruct a federal grand jury investigation into a wire fraud scam Smith was perpetrating.

On Sept. 18, Smith was arraigned via Zoom in federal duty court on one felony count of intimidation or force against witness.

A plea hearing was also held before U.S. District Judge Linda Parker.

Smith’s co-counsel in this case, Martin Crandall, did not immediately respond for comment.

Schneider said Smith has agreed to plead guilty to the charge.

Schneider said the scheme started in approximately 2012 with Smith controlling a political campaign fund.

“Mr. Smith raised money for this fund by telling donors the money would be used for his reelection,” Schneider said. “Sometimes, that was true, but sometimes, that was a lie.”

Federal authorities allege that Smith stole money from his campaign account and used it for his personal “whims.”

Schneider provided two examples of Smith conducting fraud schemes to steal approximately $75,000 in cash from his political campaign fund to use for personal expenses.

Once was when Smith had approximately $55,000 in checks from his campaign account written to an associate to pay for rent for Smith to use the associate’s property for a campaign office.

“That was a sham,” Schneider said. “The associate cashed the checks, kicked back the entire amount to Smith for his own enjoyment.”

The second case Schneider detailed was in September 2016 when Smith allegedly gave a $20,000 check from his campaign fund to an assistant county prosecuting attorney.

“Smith told the assistant prosecutor to give Smith back $15,000, which Smith used for his own personal expenses,” Schneider said.

He said what came next was Smith’s attempt to cover up his crimes.

Federal authorities believe Smith tried to get his associate to lie to federal law enforcement.

“In September 2019, Smith learned that a federal grand jury was investigating Smith’s use of his campaign account,” Schneider said. “Smith also learned that FBI agents were planning on interviewing Smith’s associate about the $55,000 in checks.”

Schneider said Smith talked to the associate, trying to get them to lie to the FBI by telling them that the money was a loan that Smith would repay.

Schneider says that in February, a month before Smith resigned, Smith approached the assistant prosecutor in a stairwell at the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office, ensuring that the individual did not have a cellphone to record the conversation.

“In the stairwell, Smith told the assistant prosecutor that federal law enforcement was investigating the nature of the $20,000 check Smith had given the assistant prosecutor,” Schneider said.

He also said that Smith suggested to the assistant prosecutor they create a fake consulting contract to explain away the $20,000 stolen from Smith’s campaign fund.

Schneider said that also in February 2020, Smith “corruptly approached” another assistant prosecutor to obstruct justice, again instructing them to leave any cellphones behind.

“Smith told the second assistant prosecutor to lie to federal law enforcement officers investigating the campaign fund,” Schneider said. “By doing all of this, Prosecutor Smith knowingly and willfully obstructed an ongoing federal investigation.”

Schneider said his office intends to seek a 15-21 month prison sentence for Smith.

Regarding Smith’s resignation, Schneider said his office asked Smith to do so because of the federal charge.

“We made this request because the people of Macomb County deserve to have a prosecutor who is not corrupt,” Schneider said.

The FBI investigation was separate from the Michigan State Police investigation of Smith’s alleged misuse of forfeiture funds.

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