New Criminal Charges Brought in Flint MI Water Crisis

By - August 3, 2016
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CNN reported last week that reports from two agencies in Michigan in July 2015 were altered or buried to cover up the lead water contamination problem in Flint, Michigan.

State Attorney General Bill Schuette stated in a press conference that six current and former state employees were charged with federal crimes in a criminal investigation of the water crisis. Prosecutors say that evidence shows a concentrated effort to cover up warning signs of lead poisoning.

The investigation has contained more than 200 interviews and spanned for nearly eight months, but still is not over. More charges could be coming, Schuette said. He added that the entire case is similar to a mob investigation, which requires prosecutors to cast the net wide.

Prosecutors noted that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Health and Human Services both are guilty of altering and manipulating data, and also advised employees to not report problems.

One prosecutor, Todd Flood, stated that the crimes were ‘pretty obvious,’ noting that two state agencies manipulated data on the same day

Investigators say that they are using care to not reveal too much as they are moving ahead in the investigation.

With the latest federal charges, there have been nine current and former government officials at the state and local levels who have been charged with crimes. Some of the counts include willful neglect of duty and conspiracy, regarding accusations that they withheld information from Flint residents about lead contamination in their water. Three lower level local officials were charged in the spring, and one of those is cooperating.

State prosecutors say that this federal and state investigation will be the biggest ever in the state. The highest ranking official in Michigan charged with crimes is Liane Shekter Smith, former chief of the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. She was charged with a single count of misconduct in office and a single count of willful neglect of duty.

Shekter-Smith’s name was raised last year in congressional investigations after one of the mothers in Flint charged that the official had bragged about shutting up an employee of the EPA who released a memo about rising levels of lead in Flint’s water.

Charging documents indicate that the official took several concrete steps to mislead the public of Michigan and also to hide evidence. Schuette said that she ignored reports that the water plant was not in compliance with federal regulations regarding lead in the water. She also is alleged to have lied that the water plant was certified, and she also allegedly lied to her supervisors.

Two of Shekter-Smith’s employees also have been charged; water quality analyst Adam Rosenthal is alleged to have manipulated a water quality report in July 2015, which indicated levels of lead that were higher than acceptable in the water supply for Flint.

Another state employee, Patrick Cook, who was community drinking water unit specialist, also is alleged to have misled EPA with false data. Both have been charged with misconduct in office, which is a felony.

Another report at another state agency, which was also dated July 28, 2015, stated concerns that there were high levels of lead being found in children in Flint during summer 2014. Schuette reported that this report was buried and never released or forwarded to health officials.

Why It Happened

The state attorney general was blunt when he was asked to explain why so many officials apparently misled the public in this case. He noted that he thought it was arrogance and that they viewed the Flint MI public as expendable.

After the first arrests were announced in April 2016, residents of the town wanted more people to be arrested. Schuette stressed that the victims in this case are real individuals and were repeatedly lied to by government officials.

Background

In a move to reduce costs in 2014, Michigan switched the water supply for Flint from Lake Huron to the Flint River, which was well known to be dirty and contaminated. The Department of Environmental Quality did not treat the corrosive water properly, and this ate into iron and lead pipes, which made lead leach into the water.

In 2015, researchers found there were high levels of lead in many residents of the Michigan town. Children were especially affected. Lead causes many health problems, particularly affecting the nervous system.

About Conspiracy Charges

One of the charges in the Flint MI water contamination case will be conspiracy, which is defined as more than 1 person working together with the shared goal of committing a crime. In both federal and state statutes, a conspiracy occurs when a group of people work together for an end result that is recognized as a crime under a state or federal statute.

Federal conspiracy law states that two or more people who have conspired to commit an offense in the US for any purpose. Federal statutes state that there are two basic types of conspiracy:

  • Where the object of the conspiracy is a felony.
  • Where the object of the conspiracy is a misdemeanor.