With Not Much Wiggle Room, Detroit Riverfront Conservancy Finance Chief William Smith May Try to Work Out a Plea Deal

June 18, 2024, 8:17 AM by  Allan Lengel

CFO William Smith

With a paper trail that's hard to get around, federal prosecutors and the lawyer for former Detroit Riverfront Conservancy finance chief William Smith may try for a plea, if a federal court filing is any indication.

The prosecution and defense jointly signed a motion last week to delay proceedings in the case "in order to permit the ongoing plea negotiations to continue." The possibility of a plea was first reported by Robert Snell and Louis Aguilar of the Detroit News. 

The possible talks come about two weeks after the feds charged Smith in a criminal complaint with stealing about $40 million from the nonprofit. It also comes at a time the feds have slapped a lien on Smith's $1.25 million home, the News reports.

Either way, whether he pleads or goes to trial and is found guilty, Smith is likely to spend serious time behind bars. Part of the federal sentencing guildelines are based on the amount of money involved in the crime, and $40 million is considered an egregious amount. 

With a distinct paper trail, the defense may not have much to work with if the case goes to trial.

Conversely, a trial would require untold hours of preperation for federal prosecutors and FBI and IRS agents, something prosecutors would prefer to avoid if Smith agrees to a recommended sentence both parties could live with. 

Ultimately, a federal judge would have to sign off on the plea deal.  

Farmingon Hills criminal defense attorney Arthur Weiss, who is not involved in the case, tells Deadline Detroit the fact that there are plea talks going on so soon after charges were filed indicates "the writings on the wall for Smith."

He said the plea considerations may include whether Smith cooperates in the investigation and reveals whether other people are involved in the scheme, and whether Smith has some underlying psychological issues that could have been a factor in the alleged crime. They would also consider whether he's able to pay restitution. 

Weiss said the feds will want to know "did he do it by himself or did he really hoodwink everyone?"

The suggested plea may not be a sweet one for Smith.

"I would be surprised if the negotiations are true negotiations, rather than, we have this guy dead cold, and this is a media case and he's just going to have to take his lumps."

Weiss said under the federal guidelines, with full cooperation, Smith might be able to get a plea of six to eight years in prison. If he goes to trial and is convicted, the sentence could be much harsher, Weiss said. The federal guidelines are recommendations, not mandates.

Smith's attorney Gerald Evelyn did not immediately respond for comment via text and email Tuesday morning.

The U.S. Attorney's Office declined comment on Tuesday. 






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