Feds Charge Ex-CFO of Detroit Riverfront Conservancy With Allegedly Embezzling Nearly $40 Million in 12-Year Scheme

June 05, 2024, 10:48 AM by  Allan Lengel

CFO William Smith

The numbers are staggering and perhaps one of the biggest embezzlements in Detroit history.

The U.S. Attorney's Office on Wednesday announced it has filed a criminal complaint charging William A. Smith, 51, the former chief financial officer for the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy, with allegedly embezzling nearly $40 million in public and private funds in a scheme between November 2012 and March 2024.

An FBI agent's court affidavit alleges that Smith spent money on purchasing items for himself and other including airline tickets and pricey jewelry and clothing. He also paid insurance premiums.

The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to develop access to the Detroit International Riverfront from the Ambassador Bridge to Belle Isle. Smith, who lives in Novi, was the CFO of the DRFC from 2011 until his firing last month.

He faces charges of bank and wire fraud.

The criminal complaint alleges that starting in November 2012, Smith began to carry out his embezzlement scheme in "two distinct ways."

First, he allegedly used money to pay for charges that he and his family ran up on an American Express account. Secondly, he allegedly diverted funds to "The Joseph Group," a company he controlled.

To cover up his embezzlement, the complaint alleges Smith doctored bank statements he provided to the Conservancy’s accountant. 

Last year, Smith allegedly obtained an unauthorized $5 million line of credit with Citizens Bank on the Conservancy’s behalf, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a press release.

The FBI affidavit also found Amex credit card charges including a $4,850.00 purchase of men's clothing on Jan. 3, 2013 Revive in Birmingham. On Jan. 24, 2013, he made a $5,618.00 jewelry purchase from Diamonds Direct in Southfield. In March 2013 , his Amex statement showed a $12,900.44 charge from Draper Chevrolet Toyota in Saginaw and a $17,452.80 charge from Louis Vuitton.

“The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy’s mission is to transform one of our city’s greatest assets, the riverfront, into a vibrant and safe space for all to gather and enjoy," said Detroit U.S. Attorney Dawn Ison in a statement. "This defendant is alleged to have abused the trust the Conservancy placed in him and to have carried out a fraud that is simply astonishing in scale."


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