Criminal Charges Today in Flint Water Crisis
By Paul Egan and Matthew Dolan
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette will announce criminal charges today in connection with his ongoing investigation of the Flint drinking water crisis, three sources familiar with the investigation told the Free Press on Tuesday.
Officials believe the city got artificially low lead readings because they didn't test the homes most at risk -- those with lead service lines or other features putting them at high risk for lead. Among those to be charged is a City of Flint official who signed a document saying the homes Flint used to test tap water under the federal Lead and Copper Rule all had lead service lines -- a statement investigators allege was false.
Schuette is to announce felony and misdemeanor charges against at least two, and possibly as many as four people, according to two other sources familiar with the investigation. The investigation is ongoing and more charges are expected, sources said.
The charges, which will be brought against individuals connected with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the City of Flint, relate to the lead contamination of Flint's drinking water and not to the possible link between Flint River water and an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease that is tied to the deaths of 12 people, one of the sources said.
Schuette, a Republican who is widely expected to run for governor in 2018, opened an investigation in January, tapping former Detroit FBI Director Andrew Arena and Royal Oak attorney Todd Flood to head the probe.
Andrea Bitely, a spokeswoman for Schuette, would neither confirm nor deny the charges.
Sources said the number of people to be charged Wednesday was still uncertain late Tuesday because of the possibility one or more of those targeted could agree to cooperate with authorities and avoid charges.
A person familiar with the matter said that other parts of state and Flint city government remain under investigation. The prosecution team is trying to uncover more about why the individuals expected to be charged Wednesday, as well as others still under investigation, may have acted the way they did and who may have instructed them to do so, according to one of the sources.
Much of the case was built on previously disclosed e-mails pieced together starting last year by a number of reporters, including those at the Free Press. But prosecutors had other tools at their disposal, including subpoena power that enabled them to secure documents from city, state and federal agencies, according to one of the sources.
More than two dozen witnesses were interviewed by the prosecution team, sources said.
One of the more important pieces of evidence, the sources said, was how city and state officials submitted documentation related to the federal Lead and Copper Rule, which governs acceptable levels of those substances in drinking water. The person familiar with the matter said that some officials who worked on and submitted these reports included information they knew to be incorrect.
Flint's water became contaminated with lead in April 2014 when the city, while under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager, switched its drinking water source from Lake Huron water treated by the Detroit water system to Flint River water treated at the Flint Water Treatment Plant. Michigan Department of Environmental Quality officials have acknowledged a disastrous mistake when they failed to require the city to add corrosion-control chemicals as part of the treatment process.
The corrosive water caused lead to leach from pipes, joints and fixtures. Although Flint reconnected to Detroit water in October, after state officials acknowledged the lead-poisoning problem after months of denials, the risk remains because of damage to the water infrastructure system.
Officials also still are exploring possible links between the river water and the Legionnaires' outbreak.
The state and city are now treating the pipes with higher levels of phosphates in an effort to build up a protective coating that will prevent lead from further leaching. Having more water flowing in the system would help that process, and that's one reason Snyder and other state officials want Flint residents to start using their taps again.
Staff writers Elisha Anderson and John Wisely contributed to this report.
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