By Jan Worth-Nelson
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette today announced charges against four more people involved in the Flint water crisis: former state-appointed emergency managers Darnell Earley and Jerry Ambrose; and two former City of Flint employees Howard Croft, the City of Flint’s former public works director; and Daugherty Johnson, the city’s former utilities director in the Department of Public Works.
Earley, emergency manager from September 2013 to January 2015, and Ambrose, emergency manager from January to April 2015, are charged with false pretenses, conspiracy to commit false pretenses, misconduct in office, and willful neglect of duty in office, offenses which could lead to 20-year prison sentences and/or fines.
Croft and Johnson are charged with false pretenses and conspiracy to commit false pretenses — also felonies with 20-year prison terms and/or fines.
The bombshell indictments, especially of the emergency managers both appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder, began to shed light on what some have called the “missing link” explaining why Earley moved the city’s water source to the Flint River in 2014 against recommendations, why an inadequate water treatment plant was forced into service, and how that all connected to funding for the Karegnondi Water Pipeline.
“The people of Flint are getting justice and will get more justice in the future,” Schuette said, saying “stay tuned” when asked if there are more indictments to come.
“We will proceed to deliver justice and hold those accountable who broke the law, period,” he said.
As in previous indictment announcements, Schuette was joined for the press conference by Todd Flood, Flint Water Investigation Special Prosecutor; Chief investigator Andy Arena; and Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton.
The indictments bring to 43 the number of criminal charges against 13 current and former state and local officials since the start of the investigation
Soon after the city switched to the Flint River for its water in April, 2014, residents began complaining about brown water and a multitude of physical symptoms. Water officials failed to use anti-corrosive chemicals for the river water, which is more corrosive than Lake Huron water, causing lead to leach into the city’s aging pipes and the blood levels of thousands in the city to climb into toxicity. The failure to add anti-corrosives, an EPA-required precaution which Schuette said would have cost less than $200 a day, has been described as the single most direct cause for the lead–in-the-water debacle.
But the indictments described how the situation was complicated by more than just the disastrous failure to add anti-corrosives.
.Several of the charges are intertwined, it turns out, with attempts “under false pretenses” to get funding for construction of the Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline — the project that began the process leading to a temporary switch to the Flint River as a municipal water source after the city’s contract for Lake Huron water through Detroit was cancelled.
According to a statement provided at the announcements today, the false pretenses and conspiracy charges against Earle and Ambrose are based on the two gaining authorization to borrow millions “using the alleged reason of an environmental calamity.”
“Without the funds from Flint, the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) pipeline would have to be mothballed. However, as a bankrupt city, Flint needed the Michigan department of Treasury’s approval to get loans.
“Emergency manager Earley’s attempts to get funds in January and February of 2014 were rejected because the City was in receivership, had a $13 million deficit and no credit rating. State law banned the City from accumulating any more debt,” the statement explained.
So Earley allegedly used “a Home Rule City Act emergency bond clause,” for funds to clean up a “troublesome lime sludge lagoon — holding by-products of water treatment.” There was a lime sludge lagoon issue, Flood said, but it did not constitute an emergency and was not the real reason for the money.
The situation was complicated, Schuette explained, by a one-paragraph requirement as part of the deal in the bond plan requiring the city to use the Flint River as a water source and the city’s water treatment plant in the interim between termination of using Lake Huron water from Detroit and completion of the KWA pipeline.
The charges against Croft and Johnson allege that they “aided and abetted Defendants Ambrose and Earley in a process that allowed the use of bonds to fund the construction of the KWA pipeline despite the City’s problem with its high debt level…used an exception to state law by claiming the bonds were needed to fund an emergency cleanup of a retention pond, when in fact he funds were indeed to pay for the KWA.
“During that time,” the indictment against Croft and Johnson continues, “the defendants actively worked in various fashions to discourage a return to using water produced by the Detroit Water and Sewer Department, require the use of Flint River water through Flint Water treatment plant that was deemed unready for service by several people involved with its management, and to ensure the construction of the KWA.”
“What has been all too prevalent and very evident has been a fixation on balance sheets,” Schuette said. ” This fixation has cost lives. It’s all about numbers over people, money over health.”
“When people ask me about Flint, my answer to them is 12 people have died from Legionnaires disease — that cannot be swept under the rug. Young Children have been exposed to dangerously high lead levels. A pregnant woman or a young infant cannot use the water.
“The tragedy, as we know, is the Flint water crisis did not happen by accident.” Flint was, he said, “a casualty of arrogance, disdain, and a failure of management, an absence of accountability, shirking responsibility.”
Todd Flood described the water crisis as a “classic bait and switch, where the citizens of Flint got shafted,” noting, if you don’t have health you don’t have anything.
“I’m going to try this case in the courtroom,” Flood said, saying “there is no other mission in my life than this mission,” to see that the citizens of Flint are protected.”
Genesee County Prosecutor Leyton praised the investigating team, saying, “I can assure the public that this investigation is being handled professionally, methodically, and happening in exactly the manner that it should happen.”
Further, he said of his participation with the investigation, “what’s important is I’m from here. I know what’s going on.”
“Because I’m here, I see the victims of these crimes,” he said. “This is not a victimless crime — there are tens of thousands of victims of these crimes, these are children, these are senior citizens, these are folks afflicted with poverty, these are folks that are middle class — everybody has been touched by this crisis and we need to remember that.”
In addition to criminal charges, the investigation team has filed civil suit against water infrastructure firms Veolia and Lockwood, Andrews and Newnam (LAN) for their roles in the Flint water poisoning crisis. Schuette said the civil cases are separate from the criminal cases and further information would be revealed separately.
“Many people wish that the problems of Flint would just go away, that Flint could be swept under the rug,” Schuette said.”These voices simply hope to blame nameless bureaucrats. But the people of Flint are not expendable. People in responsibility broke the law and must be held accountable.”
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at email@example.com.