BY TIMOTHY CAMA – 12/20/16 the hill
Michigan’s attorney general on Tuesday charged four officials with criminal accusations stemming from the Flint drinking water crisis.
Among the people charged by Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) are the highest-ranking individuals implicated yet in the investigation into the lead contamination in the city of 100,000. They could face up to 25 years in prison.
Darnell Earley and Jerry Ambrose were both emergency managers of Flint, appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder (R) to oversee the city while it is under state receivership.
The charges announced Tuesday get criminal investigators a significant step closer to Snyder, who has maintained that he believed state bureaucrats when they told him Flint’s water was safe up until September 2015.
Snyder has not been charged, though Schuette declined again Tuesday to rule out any potential suspects.
Schuette said at a news conference that both Earley and Ambrose were instrumental in securing $85 million to connect the city to a new water source. But the financing contract required the city to temporarily use Flint’s mothballed water treatment plant, which Earley and Ambrose knew was not equipped to treat water straight from the Flint River, Schuette alleged.
That led to improper treatment after the April 2014 switch, which caused the water to corrode lead pipes. The city’s water is cleaner now since switching back to Detroit’s water, but residents cannot drink it without filtering first.
Earley was emergency manager from November 2013 to January 2015, and Ambrose served from January to April 2015. Both are accused of making false pretenses, conspiring to make false pretenses, misconduct of office and neglect of duty.
“The tragedy we know as the Flint water crisis did not occur by accident,” Schuette said at the news conference. “Flint was a tragedy of arrogance, disdain and a failure of management. An absence of accountability, shirking responsibility. We will proceed to deliver justice and hold those accountable who broke the law, period.”
Daugherty Johnson and Howard Croft, both Flint city employees, were also charged Tuesday. They are accused of false pretenses and conspiracy, also related to the $85 million financing deal, and face up to 20 years in prison.
With the latest charges, 13 people have been formally accused criminally in connection with the Flint crisis. Some have pleaded guilty and some are fighting their charges in court.
People working on the investigation said that the contract at issue with the latest charges shows that Flint residents were tricked with the planned water switch.
“This case, as we charged it right here, is a classic bait-and-switch. It’s a bait-and-switch where the citizens of Flint got the shaft, that’s the simple truth,” said Todd Flood, the special prosecutor in charge of the Flint cases.
Andy Arena, the chief investigator Schuette assigned to the cases, expressed surprise that officials made the water switch.
“So many people knew that plant was not ready, and so many people said ‘don’t do this,’ and yet, it was done. And I think that’s the thing that shocked me,” he said.
Earley testified at a March congressional hearing on the crisis that he had no reason to believe that lead contamination was a risk in switching Flint’s water, based on what federal and state environmental regulators told him.
“I believe, based on the information we were given, we acted responsibly, and did what we did knowing the information we had at the time,” Earley told lawmakers.
In response to the charges, Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, renewed his call for the panel’s Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) to subpoena Snyder.
Chaffetz closed the committee’s investigation last week despite Snyder not supplying all of the information that the panel sought for its probe.
“Gov. Snyder appointed the two emergency managers charged today, and it is beyond irresponsible for the committee to close its investigation without demanding full accountability and transparency from him. The families of Flint deserve no less,” Cummings wrote in an open letter to Chaffetz.