Schuette expected to announce charges in Flint probe

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Criminal charges are expected to be announced Wednesday by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette against two state officials and one local administrator in an ongoing investigation into Flint’s water crisis, according to two sources familiar with the probe.

Schuette is scheduled to make an announcement of the charges for either malfeasance and/or misconduct in office against the three individuals related to the lead contamination of Flint’s water supply, according to the two sources.

The indictments are “the first of more to come,” one source said.

Schuette’s probe has been looking into state and local government officials to determine whether state laws were violated. In launching the investigation in January, Schuette said the crisis in Flint was “a human tragedy in which families are struggling with even the most basic parts of daily life.” He vowed to “help restore some of the trust in our government while helping families move forward.”

Schuette assembled what he called a “top-shelf” team earlier this year for the probe, led by Todd Flood, a former Wayne County assistant prosecutor, and Andrew Arena, who ran several major investigations as head of the Detroit FBI Office until his retirement in 2012. Arena came out of retirement, he said, because the Flint water investigation is “the biggest case in the history of the state.”

In late March, Flood began deposing several unnamed city employees who were subpoenaed to appear at an office in Detroit, Flint City Attorney Stacy Erwin Oakes previously said.

Oakes did not return a message Tuesday night seeking comment.

Flood said in February the inquiry could lead to a variety of criminal charges or civil actions.

The team includes more than 20 attorneys and investigators, including former state and Detroit police officers.

Flood has said he also could pursue restitution for Flint residents affected by the water contamination crisis, suggesting he could target private companies or governments involved in the man-made disaster.

Critics have questioned the objectivity of the investigation, noting that Flood has made political contributions to both Schuette and Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, a fact he has said will not affect his judgment in the case. Flood also donated to former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

Because he is involved in the probe, Schuette is not part of the team defending Snyder in a federal class-action lawsuit.

The contamination crisis has led to the resignation of the state Department of Environmental Quality Director Dan Wyant and department spokesman Brad Wurfel. Gov. Rick Snyder dismissed Liane Shekter Smith, former head of the DEQ’s Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance. In response to a spike in Legionnaires’ cases that coincided with the water crisis — 91 cases in 17 months beginning in June 2014, including 12 deaths — Snyder called for an investigation into the health department.

Flint switched off Detroit’s Lake Huron water supply in April 2014 and began using the Flint River as an interim source while a new regional pipeline was built. Residents quickly began complaining about the water’s color and odor, and independent experts eventually discovered elevated lead levels in the water and blood of children.

The state, which initially downplayed concerns, confirmed the lead findings in October and began taking steps to address the crisis. Wyant resigned in late December amid criticism over his agency’s failure to ensure proper corrosion controls were added to Flint River water, which had leached lead from aging underground pipes.

U.S. Attorney’s office in Detroit has also said it was probing the water crisis along with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Staff Writer Chad Livengood contributed.