Macomb County Commissioner Leon Drolet, right, said that as he began digging through checks written by the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office, a “huge number of red flags” went off.

Macomb County Commissioner Leon Drolet, right, said that as he began digging through checks written by the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office, a “huge number of red flags” went off.

Photo by Deb Jacques

Macomb County commissioner discusses forfeiture funds

By: Alex Szwarc | C&G Newspapers | Published March 26, 2019


MACOMB COUNTY — Plenty has been said over the last few months about financial records maintained by Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith.

Add Macomb County Commissioner Leon Drolet to the list of elected officials to sound off on the topic. Drolet, a Republican, represents District 13, which includes most of Macomb Township.

In an interview with C & G Newspapers, he began by describing forfeiture funds, which include money generated from assets seized from drug forfeitures or drunken drivers, as, “If someone gets busted for drunk driving, the car sometimes gets confiscated from them and they have to pay $900 to get their car back. That money is supposed to be turned over to the county treasurer and maintained in a separate account.”

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

Macomb County Assistant Prosecutor Josh Van Laan spoke to C & G Newspapers on behalf of Smith. He said there is a disagreement on how the money was spent.

Drolet said the Macomb County Board of Commissioners is supposed to appropriate money from that account for law enforcement purposes.

“Over at least the last 13 years, that’s not how it worked with Macomb County,” Drolet said. “That’s how it worked with the county sheriff, but the prosecutor has not been turning the money over to the county treasurer. He has kept that money in a separate account that only he controls. I don’t know how he was able to get away with this for as long as he had.”

Drolet shared 23 pages of over 170 checks, written by the Prosecutor’s Office, going back to 2012. As he began digging through them, he said there was a “huge number of red flags.”

Van Laan said that in November, the Prosecutor’s Office turned over two years worth of documents to the Macomb County Department of Finance.

“The way these funds are supposed to work, under law, is a certain amount is turned over to law enforcement agencies. Others are supposed to be used for victim rights. It’s all supposed to be for law enforcement purposes,” Drolet said. “A bunch of checks were written for those purposes, but a huge number of checks were written directly to Visa and American Express accounts with no notations.”

As part of the audit, the hope is that it will be determined where the credit cards are from.

On Feb. 27, the Macomb County Board of Commissioners selected Yeo & Yeo to conduct the audit of forfeiture accounts of the Prosecutor’s Office.

“We may have to get subpoenas, because if it’s someone’s private credit card, it’s not under our control,” Drolet said.

Other issues he has are checks not written for law enforcement purposes.

“Is a $5,000 check to Habitat for Humanity a law enforcement purpose? Another is to the Clinton (River) Watershed Council. Then there’s tens of thousands of dollars in checks written to churches in $500 increments,” he said. “What law enforcement purpose is that for?”

Van Laan said that defining a law enforcement purpose is solely up to the prosecuting attorney.

“The drug forfeiture statute says the funds shall be used to enhance law enforcement, the OWI and criminal forfeiture statutes must be used to enhance, not maintain, law enforcement,” he said. “There is no legal definition of law enforcement purpose, or of what the money can be used for.”    

Under state law, Drolet said there are two laws that could’ve been broken in this case.

“One is misappropriation of funds. That could result in a misdemeanor and having to repay the money,” he said. “Then there is embezzlement, where you misappropriate funds for the purpose of yourself. Does this cross into that level? I don’t know.”

In February, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel held a press conference, where he said the matter needs to be investigated further and he wanted a forensic audit completed.

“These are public funds,” Hackel said. “They do not belong to the prosecutor.”

When asked if this is a bad look for Macomb County, in that two of the top elected officials are in a battle of accusations, Drolet said it would look worse if there wasn’t a war about it.

“If no one was challenging the prosecutor, I’d be concerned,” he said. “I think it’s a good look there are checks and balances in Macomb County.”

Van Laan said the Prosecutor’s Office has a good partnership with the county executive.

“We’re going to continue to pursue the goal of remaining good partners with the county executive,” he said. “Our partnership is not strained. There are legal issues involved that need to be resolved.”

Drolet said the audit should begin this month, most likely taking over 90 days to complete.