4 more face criminal charges in Flint water poisoning scandal
“All too prevalent and very evident during the course of this investigation there has been a fixation on finances and balance sheets. This fixation has cost lives,” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette told reporters during a press conference on Tuesday. “This fixation came at the expense of protecting the health and safety of Flint. It is all about numbers over people, money over health.”
“We are announcing charges that reach a higher level of responsibility. We are announcing charges against four individuals, two former state appointed emergency managers, and two employees for the city of Flint.”
Former Flint emergency managers Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose were charged with multiple 20-year felonies for their failure to protect the city’s residents from health hazards caused by contaminated drinking water.
Schuette also charged Earley, Ambrose and former Flint city employees Howard Croft and Daugherty Johnson with felony counts of false pretenses and conspiracy to commit false pretenses.
At the heart of prosecution is a conspiracy: The city of Flint was in receivership, so it could only borrow money or issue bonds in the instance of a flood, a fire or a calamity. The accused parties ‒ Earley and Ambrose ‒ conspired to create an emergency environmental calamity to clean up a lime sludge lagoon in order to issue bonds worth as much as $85 million dollars, Schuette said. The public records from the bond request included the real reason the money was sought. The lagoon needed no remediation and the money was to be used instead to open up the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) for Flint’s water supply as the city switched its water source from the Detroit River in order to save money.
Schuette told reporters he know there are some who wished the problems of Flint would just go away and that the poisoning of the city’s water could be just swept under the rug.
So far, charges have been filed against nine people in the investigation that began in mid-January.
Some of those charged have taken plea bargains, some of the cases are proceeding to trial. The state has also filed civil actions against French water company Veolia and Texas engineering services firm Lockwood, Andrews and Newman (LAN). The city of Flint had hired the companies to assist the city in its water treatment process, and Michigan said they “failed in their responsibilities.”
“I see the victims in these crimes. This is not a victimless crime. There are tens of thousands of victims of these crimes. Everybody had been touched by the crisis,” Genesee County Prosecutor David Leighton said during the press conference.
Flint’s water system became contaminated with lead because water from the Flint River wasn’t treated for corrosion for 18 months, starting in April 2014. The water ate away at a protective coating inside old pipes and fixtures, releasing lead.
“What were they thinking?” asked chief investigator Andrew Arena. “Why would you do this? That plant was not ready to go and they knew it.”
During the crisis, 12 people died from Legionnaires disease, and young children were exposed to dangerous levels of lead.
“It did not occur by accident, Flint was a casualty of arrogance, disdain, and failure of management. We will proceed to deliver justice,” said Schuette.
If phosphate had been place in the water at a cost of $200 a day, the leaching would not have occurred, he added.