Michigan’s attorney general has announced felony charges against two former emergency managers of Flint, Mich., and two other former city officials. The charges are linked to the city’s disastrous decision to switch water sources, ultimately resulting in widespread and dangerous lead contamination.
“All too prevalent in this Flint Water Investigation was a priority on balance sheets and finances rather than health and safety of the citizens of Flint,” state Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement.
Former Emergency Managers Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose were each charged with two felonies that carry penalties of up to 20 years — false pretenses and conspiracy to commit false pretenses — along with misconduct in office, also a felony, and willful neglect of duty in office, a misdemeanor.
Howard Croft, who was Flint’s director of the Department of Public Works, and Daugherty Johnson, who was the department’s utilities director, were each charged with false pretenses and conspiracy to commit false pretenses.
Earley and Ambrose each face a total of up to 46 years in prison. Croft and Johnson each face a total of up to 40 years in prison.
This case is rooted in the city’s decision to switch water sources, which it justified as a cost-saving measure. City officials decided in 2013 that they would end their contract with Detroit and build their own pipeline to connect to the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA).
That pipeline wouldn’t be operational before the original water source was set to be cut off, so officials turned to the Flint River as an interim source of water. They failed to treat the Flint River water with corrosion controls, damaging the city’s pipes and causing lead to leach into the city’s drinking water.
But let’s back up a few steps. These charges today are focused on the decision to switch to the KWA at a time when the city was deeply in debt.
The city was barred by state law from accumulating any more debt. Earley and Ambrose allegedly circumvented that law — and were able to borrow tens of millions of dollars — by arguing that the city faced an “environmental calamity” over a retention pond filled with lime sludge that needed emergency cleanup.
“The City of Flint … used an exception to state law by claiming the bonds were needed to fund an emergency cleanup of a retention pond, when in fact the funds were intended to pay for the KWA,” a statement from Schuette reads.
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SOURCE: NPR, Merrit Kennedy