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The chief investigator leading the state’s inquiry into the Flint water crisis will be replaced by a team member, who is a former Dearborn Heights police officer.

Andy Arena, the FBI Detroit office’s former director, was relieved of his assignment as head of the investigative team earlier this week, according to Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office.

Jeff Seipenko, a three-year member of the attorney general’s investigative team in Flint, will replace Arena.

Arena, who worked on contract on the Flint probe, said he respected the Attorney General's office's decision to pull the investigation in-house and had faith that the team would continue to pursue justice for Flint residents. 

"It was an honor and a real privilege to do this case for three years," said Arena, who also serves as the executive director for the Detroit Crime Commission and teaches at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.

The decision comes roughly two weeks after solicitor general Fadwa Hammoud was appointed to take the lead on the state’s criminal cases related to the Flint lead-contaminated water crisis. Nessel said Hammoud’s role in the case allowed the attorney general to avoid conflicts of interest by not taking a direct role in either the criminal or civil cases.

Flint Special Prosecutor Todd Flood and Arena were part of the Flint investigation and appeared with former Attorney General Bill Schuette in June 2017 to announce criminal charges in the case. Flood could not be reached for comment.

“There is nothing more important to Attorney General Dana Nessel and to me than to bring these cases home,” Hammoud said in a Tuesday statement.

Seipenko has served as the officer in charge in all of the charged cases in Flint and is the “only certified law enforcement officer” on the team, an attribute Hammoud stressed as important in announcing Seipenko’s promotion.

Since the preliminary criminal hearings began in Flint, Seipenko has been a fixture in the courtroom, often in the back or in private rooms. He has remained in constant contact and communication with the special prosecution team.

In January 2018, Seipenko testified at the preliminary hearing of Nick Lyon, the then-director of the state Department of Health and Human Services, that he retrieved Lyon’s iPhone to extract information. Lyon faces trial on charges, among others, of involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office regarding the 2014-15 outbreak of Legionnaires' cases in the Flint region.

Seipenko testified about a July 22, 2015, meeting in Lansing with then-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s chief of staff Dennis Muchmore, urban policy adviser Harvey Hollins and Flint residents talking about the lead-in-water problem. A screenshot of a note from Lyon’s phone confirmed the meeting.

“Jeff Seipenko possesses the institutional knowledge and experience required to manage and direct all future investigative assets to bring these cases to conclusion,” Hammoud said.

Seipenko served with the Dearborn Heights Police Department for 29 years and retired from the department as a captain of the investigative services division.

In early January, Nessel asked Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy to review the Flint criminal cases, and Worthy is expected to make recommendations on them, including on Flood's future as special prosecutor. The review is ongoing.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

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