LANSING, MI — State Sen. Jim Runestad on Wednesday criticized a plea deal struck with former Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith who was finally sentenced after years of investigation that initially saw him facing 10 felonies relating to corruption.
“Attorney General Dana Nessel’s sweetheart deal sends a signal to politicians and bureaucrats that Michigan is weak on corruption,” said Runestad, R-White Lake Township.
“In the generous deal struck by the attorney general, Smith was only charged with three of the original 10 felonies that he faced and will spend time for his convictions in the comfort of his home. This plea bargain slap-on-the-wrist punishment only requires Smith to repay $25,000 of the upwards of $600,000 in taxpayer money he stole and allows him to keep his approximate $57,000 a year taxpayer-funded pension. Yes, crime pays in Michigan!”
Runestad has vowed to continue the fight against corruption and is drafting legislation to strengthen penalties against those who violate the public’s trust.
He first authored Public Act 43 of 2017 to require the forfeiture of retirement benefits by public employees who are sentenced on a felony charge for corruption and said his new bill will seek to amend that law to require public employees who plea down to misdemeanors after initial felony charges for corruption, also must forfeit they retirement benefits.
Runestad said the update is needed after Smith’s co-conspirators pleaded down to misdemeanors for their criminal cooperation and will be able to keep their government benefits.
“There is no justice in this deal. The people of Michigan, and especially the residents of Macomb County, deserve full restitution for the stolen and misappropriated funds. Mr. Smith should have been prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Runestad’s call for justice in the Smith case has been echoed by some Macomb County officials.
“Some Macomb County commissioners and I are working on a plan to deter elected officials in Macomb County from committing grievous crimes against the taxpayers,” said Macomb County Commissioner Barbara Zinner, R-Harrison Township, a leader of efforts to hold Eric Smith accountable.”
“For stealing or embezzling as much as Mr. Smith did, to have to pay back a pittance of that just sets a bad example for other politicians who might have their eye on theft — I might get caught, but no big deal. I just have to give back a little bit,” said Macomb County Commissioner Don Van Syckel, R- Sterling Heights. “We need to make sure when you serve in a public office that it’s painful to walk on the wrong side of the line because you need to be a leader for the people.”