Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith is on the hot seat after internal documents have revealed that his office spent tens of thousands of dollars on unspecified credit card purchases, cell phone bills, satellite TV service, furniture and a refrigerator for the prosecutor’s staff, and an office Christmas party at a banquet hall.
More than 450 pages of material was released on Tuesday night after the Michigan Court of Appeals rebuffed an attempt by Smith to block the financial records from becoming public. These shadowy “off the books” bank accounts have come under fire for many months after a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request to unveil the spending details was rejected by the prosecutor’s office.
The money was supposed to be used for law enforcement purposes as it was derived through the so-called asset forfeiture process, which allows police and prosecutors to seize cash and property from those arrested on drug offenses and cars from those charged with drunken driving. The secret spending accounts hold up to $300,000 at a time.
In a radio interview this morning, County Executive Mark Hackel said his office and the Board of Commissioners must must have complete oversight of the funds, based on the new details that have come out. Hackel said on WJR-AM that Smith, a fellow Democrat and political ally, needs to answer to the public for the “questionable” expenses.
“Those funds should have been on the books all along,” the executive explained. “No one had access to any of that information.”
Smith has not yet commented but the former Macomb County Republican Party chairman who filed the FOIA request and battled the prosecutor in court said today that he believes an investigation of the matter by Attorney General Dana Nessel is warranted.
The GOP activist, Jared Maynard of Clinton Township, added this: “An investigation needs to happen on these accounts and why the monies were spent. There are too many questionable expenditures to ignore. Going forward an open transparent process for dealing with these funds needs to occur.”
When Maynard filed suit against Smith, a Macomb Circuit judge ruled in Maynard’s favor. Smith appealed the ruling but the Court of Appeals, in a one-sentence decision, refused the prosecutor’s bid for a stay by the court that would have kept the secret financial records under wraps. In response to the appellate court’s ruling, the county’s chief legal counsel released the documents to Maynard, which included copies of hundreds of checks from 2017-18.
By law, half of the forfeiture money must be shared with local police departments and nonprofit organizations. Smith sent checks to numerous churches. Much the prosecutor’s share of the forfeiture funds was spent on sending his assistants to conferences and training sessions.
But the documents show tens of thousands of dollars in credit card payments, many of which offer no explanation as to how the money had been spent. Thousands of dollars were spent monthly on cell phone bills.
Hundreds of dollars paid for flowers at a funeral. About $200 monthly was expended on “purified” bottled water for the office. Nearly $90,000 was expended on a private security firm, apparently to beef up security protections for the prosecution team’s offices located at the county Administration Building in downtown Mount Clemens.
According to The Macomb Daily, a motion will be heard in circuit court Monday to decide whether defense attorney fees and civil penalties should be paid by the county. Maynard’s attorney, Frank Cusumano, a member of the Macomb Community College board, said additional FOIA requests need to be addressed and a full accounting of all funds must be pursued by county officials.
“We need a full forensic audit to be done,” he told the Daily, “to determine if any laws were broken by the chief law enforcement (officer) of this county.”