Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced On Tuesday, her office had charged Macomb County prosecutor Eric Smith and three other district officials with a “litany” of misappropriation and misappropriation of assets seized from asset forfeiture.
Smith has been charged with 10 criminal cases, including embezzlement, official misconduct, manipulation of evidence, conspiracy to commit forgery, and conducting a criminal business.
The charges follow a one-year investigation launched after a successful lawsuit revealed over $ 100,000 in questionable expenses from the Macomb County Asset Forfeiture Fund. Authorities now estimate that the Smith and other officials have embezzled about $ 600,000 since 2012.
According to the Attorney General’s Office, the investigation “found that Smith and other defendants used the money to purchase flowers and makeup for certain secretaries, a security system for Smith’s home, garden benches for staff houses, country club catering for parties, campaign expenses and more. “
Under civil forfeiture laws, police and prosecutors can seize property – money, cars, and even homes – suspected of criminal activity such as drug trafficking.
Law enforcement groups say asset forfeiture is an essential tool for disrupting organized crime. Civil liberties groups, however, say that there is too little procedural protection for innocent property owners, who bear the burden of challenging seizures in court, and too many perverted profit incentives for law enforcement.
If found guilty, Smith would be far from the first official to be caught with his hand in an asset forfeiture cookie jar. A local Pennsylvania newspaper came out last year reported that the prosecutor from Lancaster County used forfeiture funds to lease a Toyota Highlander SUV.
In Illinois, former La Salle County Township attorney, Brian Towne prosecuted for misconduct and misappropriation of public funds after allegedly spending asset forfeiture on an SUV, home Wi-Fi and local youth sports programs. City created his own highway ban and asset forfeiture fund for his office, a decision later decided by the Illinois Supreme Court was illegal. The case against Towne was turned down last year after a judge ruled that his right to a quick trial had been violated.
In 2017 Philadelphia Weekly, in association with City & State PA, reported that the local DA’s office had spent $ 7 million on assets forfeited over the past five years, including “at least one contract that appears to have violated city ethics guidelines” – construction work awarded to a company associated with one of the DA detectives’ own employees. ‘
An audit by the 2016 Department of Justice inspector general found that a police station in Illinois more than $ 20,000 spent in equitable sub-funds on accessories for two lightly used motorcycles, including after-market exhaust pipes, decorative chrome and heated grips.
Or there was a time when a Georgia sheriff bought one $ 90,000 Dodge Viper with forfeited money for the department’s DARE program. Or there was another Georgia sheriff who bought a $ 70,000 Dodge Charger Hellcat (707 hp and tinted windows, of course) forfeited.
“In order for citizens to maintain confidence in government institutions, officials must conduct themselves in accordance with the laws of our state at all times,” Nessel said in a press release. “If government officials fail to do this, people should be able to trust that they will be held accountable fairly and without any special treatment based on their status as government officials.”