This is an excerpt from a column I wrote for Deadline Detroit.
By Chad Selweski
Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith is under a spotlight, facing accusations of violating state law by spending hundreds of thousands of county dollars on unspecified credit card purchases, cell phone bills, satellite TV service, furniture and refrigerators for the prosecutor’s staff — and lavish office parties.
In addition, hundreds of pages of financial documents recently made public show that Smith donated about $100,000 designated for crime-fighting activities to churches, schools and charities.
… Stacks of documents also show irregular expenditures that go far beyond credit cards and cell phone bills.
Hundreds of dollars were paid for flowers at a funeral. About $200 monthly was expended on “purified” bottled water for the prosecutor’s office. In 2014, Smith somehow spent $775 from the fund at a coffee shop in Ferndale called Capuccino Man. A year later, he dished out $780 at a cheesecake shop.
About $160,000 was paid under the radar on a private security firm, apparently to beef up protections for the prosecution team’s offices located at the county Administration Building in downtown Mount Clemens.
Many questions have yet to be answered by the prosecutor’s office:
- The relationship to law enforcement among Smith’s favorite nonprofits – churches, schools and civic groups like the Kiwanis and Goodfellows – remains murky at best. Smith has said churches and charities assist with addressing “causes of crime” such as helping the homeless, those suffering from substance abuse addictions, and the mentally ill. Still, how many priests would be surprised to learn that they received a check from Smith because they supposedly play a role in crime fighting? How does Habitat for Humanity or an environmental group, the Clinton River Watershed Council, contribute to criminal law enforcement?
- Though Macomb County consists of 27 communities, why did Smith give a majority of funds designated for nonprofit groups to those in the Clinton Township/Mount Clemens area? Clinton Township is Smith’s hometown and it includes most of his brother’s county commissioner district. Beyond geographic preferences, a vast majority of the places of worship that received yearly checks from the forfeiture funds were Catholic churches.
- Macomb County has 234 public schools but Smith limited the thousands of dollars he gave to schools to just three beneficiaries: his alma mater, Chippewa Valley High School in Clinton Township, and two other schools near where Smith now lives, in Macomb Township.
- While state law specifically prohibits the use of public funds for government office parties and similar occasions, Smith used forfeiture money to pay nearly $8,000 for five events – Christmas parties and other extravaganzas — from 2015-17. One county commissioner who attended Smith’s 2015 party at Ciccarelli’s Sports Bar in Shelby Township, said hundreds of people were on hand, including the prosecutor’s staff, many fellow lawyers, and law enforcement officials.
You can read the full story here.