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Key figure at Detroit riverfront nonprofit charged with embezzling millions

DETROIT — A man who for years controlled the finances at a group that has turned Detroit’s riverfront into a popular attraction was charged Wednesday with embezzling tens of millions of dollars.

William Smith routinely used money from the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy to pay credit card bills for travel, hotels, limousines, household goods, clothing and jewelry, according to a criminal complaint unsealed in federal court.

The fraud is “simply astonishing in scale,” U.S. Attorney Dawn Ison said.

Smith, who was chief financial officer from 2011 until he was fired in May, was charged with bank and wire fraud. A message seeking comment from his attorney was not immediately returned Wednesday.

Smith is accused of stealing $40 million, Ison’s statement said.

Smith has not spoken publicly since the scandal broke on May 14 when the Riverfront Conservancy said he was being placed on leave. He was fired Friday.

The mission of the Riverfront Conservancy is to transform miles of shore along the Detroit River into a place for recreation with plazas, pavilions and green space. The 44-member board of directors is stocked with major business leaders and public officials, who have been stunned by the allegations.

“We each feel a sense of responsibility to overcome this horrific act,” the board said last week.

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