September 17, 2020
LANSING – Benjamin Liston, one of the former Macomb County officials charged with multiple felonies by the Michigan Department of Attorney General in March, entered into a plea deal today in Macomb County court.
Liston, the former Macomb County chief assistant prosecutor, pleaded guilty to three counts of willful neglect of duty by a public officer holding public trust. He entered the plea today during a remote hearing in Macomb County court before Judge Cynthia M. Arvant, sitting by assignment as the 41-B District from the 46th District Court. The 41-B District Court judges have recused themselves.
As part of the guilty plea agreement, Liston will be sentenced to 60 days incarceration in Macomb County Jail, he will surrender his license to practice law and pay restitution of roughly $16,000.
Part of Liston’s plea deal requires that he cooperate in the ongoing prosecution and any further investigation of former Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith and other remaining defendants in the case, including information related to a county-ordered audit of the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office forfeiture accounts. As part of this agreement, Liston’s other charges will be dropped.
Charges were filed in March against Liston along with Smith, then-current Macomb County Assistant Prosecutor and Chief of Operations Derek Miller, and businessman William Weber.
“We must demand a standard of integrity from our public servants, and those who break the trust placed in them by the people will answer for those actions,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said. “My Public Integrity Unit remains on watch for any other situations where the officials serving our communities might have broken the law and we will act swiftly to pursue justice for those crimes.”
The Attorney General’s Public Integrity Unit, the Michigan State Police and other agencies conducted a year-long investigation into allegations that Liston and the other defendants had embezzled around $600,000 since 2012 from the county.
Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s office calling for an investigation into inappropriate use of forfeiture accounts. Asset forfeiture powers are not to be used for personal enrichment, but in a way that enhances public safety and security, such as for victim restitution for check forgeries, prosecutor training or equipment to support prosecution efforts.
Liston worked as chief assistant prosecutor for Macomb County between January 2005 and February 2018. His sentencing date will be scheduled by the Court at a later time.
The Attorney General’s prosecution against the remaining individuals in this case is ongoing and additional details will be revealed in court proceedings. Criminal charges against all other defendants are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.