The Michigan Attorney General’s Office announced charges last week against Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith and three other county officials accused of felony crimes that include misconduct in office, embezzlement, and misusing funds obtained through civil asset forfeiture.
Smith is charged with embezzlement by a public official, tampering with evidence in a civil proceeding, official misconduct in office, accessory after the fact to embezzlement by a public official, conspiracy to commit forgery, and conducting a criminal enterprise. Attorney information wasn’t available.
According to the attorney general’s office, the charges against Smith are the result of a year-long public integrity investigation that began after a public records lawsuit revealed over $100,000 from Macomb County’s civil asset forfeiture fund was used for questionable expenditures. The investigation revealed that Smith and three other officials embezzled almost $600,000 since 2012.
The attorney general’s office claims the investigation “found that Smith and other defendants used the money to buy flowers and make-up for select secretaries, a security system for Smith’s residence, garden benches for staffers’ homes, country club catering for parties, campaign expenditures and more.”
The other defendants named in this case are:
- Benjamin Liston, retired Macomb County assistant prosecutor and former chief of operations. He is charged with official misconduct in office, conducting a criminal enterprise, and embezzlement by a public official.
- Derek Miller, Macomb County’s current assistant prosecutor and chief of operations. Miller faces charges of official misconduct in office and conspiracy to commit a legal act in an illegal manner.
- William Weber, owner of Weber Security Group. He faces charges of forgery and larceny by conversion, aiding and abetting embezzlement by a public official, and receiving and concealing stolen property.
“In order for citizens to maintain trust in the institutions of government, public officials must, at all times, conduct themselves in accordance with the laws of our state,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said. “When public officials fail to do so, the people must have confidence that they will be held to account, fairly, and without any special treatment based upon their status as a public official. The Department of Attorney General will continue to work to protect this fundamental principle, that no one is above the law.”
Civil asset forfeiture is a legal process that allows law enforcement to seize property—cash, vehicles, and even houses—suspected of being connected to criminal activity such as drug trafficking. Law enforcement agencies use the seized proceeds to further battle illegal activity.
Civil forfeiture is a powerful process that enables law enforcement to disrupt organized crime, but civil liberty groups say there aren’t enough procedural protections for innocent owners who have their property seized and must prove in court that it wasn’t involved in any criminal activity. The proceeds agencies gain from asset forfeiture also incentivizes corruption and misbehavior.
Anyone who has had their private property seized through asset forfeiture should immediately consult an attorney who can investigate their case and quickly build a winning defense.
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