Macomb County officials at odds over expenditure of forfeiture funds

By: Julie Snyder | C&G Newspapers | Published March 1, 2019

 Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, left, and Prosecutor Eric Smith, right, are embroiled in a battle of accusations,  with both welcoming audits of their offices.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, left, and Prosecutor Eric Smith, right, are embroiled in a battle of accusations, with both welcoming audits of their offices.

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MOUNT CLEMENS — Trouble is brewing in Macomb County politics as two of the area’s leading elected officials are pointing fingers at each other regarding questionable spending practices.

On Feb. 25, both Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith held press conferences to address mutual accusations of wrongdoing.

In his conference, Smith, who was first elected in 2004, defended his office against accusations of misspent forfeiture funds.

Forfeiture funds include money generated from assets seized from drug forfeitures or drunken drivers.

According to Hackel, there are nearly $1.8 million in expenses in the last six years that the Prosecutor’s Office has made with forfeiture funds.

“These are public funds,” Hackel said during his conference shortly after Smith’s wrapped up. “They do not belong to the prosecutor.”

Hackel, who was joined by Macomb County Treasurer Larry Rocca, said Smith has been violating a number of state laws by writing checks from a fund for trips, parties and charities.

Hackel said $1,000 was given to a church in Smith’s brother’s district. He was referring to Macomb County Board of Commissioners Chair Bob Smith, who represents District 12. The name of the church was not disclosed.

“And a $5,000 check was given to one elementary school (in Macomb County),” Hackel said. “One elementary school that happens to be the school that his kids go to.”

He went on to show a $600 check that was given to Care House for a golf outing.

“That’s an inappropriate expenditure,” Hackel said.

“There is no other prosecutor in the state of Michigan that is doing what was happening here in Macomb County with an off-the-book account,” he said. “I found out there wasn’t one account — there were four accounts.”

Hackel said the matter needs to be investigated further and wants a forensic audit completed.

Smith said he welcomes an audit and had agreed to one two years ago when approached.

Smith called the recent move by the county executive and Rocca a political one after he learned that the company hired to conduct an audit, UHY Advisors, was hired by the Board of Commissioners and shortly thereafter fired after it was learned that the company has ties to Hackel’s campaign.

“Why in the heck did Mark Hackel, Treasurer Rocca or UHY never disclose this obvious conflict to the Board of Commissioners?” Smith asked.

Hackel said that while he did request the audit, he did not request what company was to be hired.

Smith is now asking for Hackel’s offices to be audited as well.

“There’s only one thing that has changed, that has caused our county executive to make these allegations,” Smith said. “Mark Hackel was caught with his pants down.”

In a statement issued on Feb. 26 by Care House, a Mount Clemens-based nonprofit organization that provides support and services to children who have suffered from physical or sexual abuse, Care House Executive Director Dorie Vazquez-Nolan defended Smith.

“As a nonprofit organization, we depend heavily on support from the community, and we are very grateful for the generous support we have received from Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith over the years,” Vazquez-Nolan stated in the release. “Prosecutor Smith has not only supported Care House program services with regular donations, but he has provided guidance and oversight as a Care House board member. Most importantly, as the top law enforcement officer in Macomb County, Prosecutor Smith’s support gives credibility and inclusion to Care House to play a vital role in the multidisciplinary team response to child abuse cases in our county.

“One way we routinely recognize the support of our distinguished board members and prominent donors is to offer sponsorship-level status and complimentary tickets to attend our fundraising events. Having the elected officials on our board (including our county executive, prosecutor, sheriff and judges) in attendance at our galas and golf outings lends prestige to our events and respect to our agency. Our guests also enjoy mingling with community leaders at our events, where they are able to chat informally and take photos with them. We are very proud that our events are well-attended by so many outstanding leaders in the community.”

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