Schuette on Flint: More charges coming
Flint — Attorney General Bill Schuette on Wednesday accused two state environmental officials and a Flint water administrator of criminal acts that caused the tainting of the city’s drinking water — and vowed others will face prosecution over the public health crisis.
The criminal charges leveled against Michigan Department of Environmental municipal water regulators Michael Prysby and Stephen Busch as well as Flint utilities administrator Michael Glasgow are the result of Schuette’s investigation of how Flint’s water system became beset with lead leaching from pipes into tap water.
“These charges are only the beginning, and there will be more to come, that I can guarantee,” Schuette said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference in downtown Flint.
Schuette’s charges against Busch and Prysby accuse them of “willfully and knowingly misleading” federal regulators at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Genesee County Health Department about the treatment of Flint’s river water.
“When we prove these allegations — and we will — Mr. Busch and Mr. Prysby will be facing five years in prison for this count alone,” Schuette said.
Lee-Anne Walters, the Flint mother who took her complaints about Flint’s water sickening her four children to the EPA, said Wednesday the criminal charges are “a step in the right direction in getting justice.”
“It won’t be full justice until people are actually in jail serving time,” said Walters, who is listed in court documents as the victim of the alleged crimes of Busch, Prysby and Glasgow.
Glasgow, Flint’s water treatment supervisor, was charged with one count of tampering with evidence for “altering” lead water testing reports sent to the DEQ and EPA and one count of willful neglect of duty as a public servant, Schuette said.
Walters, who has assisted state investigators, said she was “shocked” to see Glasgow face criminal charges “because he was for a period of time trying to help.”
“I think Mike was doing the best he could in a bad situation,” she said.
Glasgow and Busch, in fact, were among those who raised early concerns when the city was intending to treat its own river water.
Schuette and his team of investigators said they are looking at every aspect of Flint’s water crisis, dating back nearly a decade when Genesee County officials began planning to pull out of Detroit’s water system in favor of a new pipeline to Lake Huron that remains under construction.
“I anticipate additional charges in the not too distant future,” Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton said.
On several occasions during Wednesday’s news conference, Schuette and his team did not rule out the investigation leading to the governor’s office.
“There are no targets and nobody’s been ruled out,” Schuette said.
Special prosecutor Todd Flood said the attorney general’s investigation has amassed 2.5 million pages of emails from multiple levels of government in the wide-ranging probe.
“Nobody’s off limits either,” said Andrew Arena, Schuette’s chief investigator.
Arena, the former head of Detroit’s FBI office, echoed Schuette’s vow that more individuals will face criminal charges in the probe.
“This is the biggest case in the history of the state of Michigan and I think history will bear me out when we’re done,” Arena said. “This is widespread.”
Busch and Prysby were arraigned separately Wednesday afternoon, hours after a magistrate authorized a slew of charges against them. Busch was DEQ’s Office of Drinking Water’s Lansing and Jackson district supervisor and Prysby worked under him as a district engineer.
The charges against Prysby include: two counts of misconduct in office; one count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence; tampering with evidence; and separate violations of water treatment and monitoring laws.
Busch faces one charge of misconduct in office, one charge of conspiracy to tamper with evidence, tampering with evidence of high lead levels and separate violations of water treatment and monitoring under the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act he was charged with enforcing.
“We allege and we will prove that Mr. Busch and Mr. Prysby altered test results, which endangered the health of citizens and families of Flint,” Schuette said.
Schuette said Busch and Prysby conspired under a “joint agreement to conceal test results on Flint water samples.”
Attorneys for Busch and Prysby entered not-guilty pleas on behalf of their clients at the arraignment hearing. A judge set a probable cause hearing for May 4.
Busch and Prysby were suspended Wednesday without pay, DEQ spokeswoman Melanie Brown.
“The Michigan DEQ will continue to be fully cooperative in all ongoing investigations,” she told The News.
Busch’s actions have been under state review for several months now. He spent five days on unpaid leave in late January, the maximum allowable under civil service rules. The DEQ supervisor earns $93,876 a year and had been on paid leave since Feb. 1, according to the State Budget Office.
Since they now face criminal charges, civil service rules allowed the DEQ to suspend Busch and Prysby without pay, Brown said.
Flood said Busch and Prysby misled EPA lead expert Miguel Del Toral during his investigation of dangerously high lead levels found in Walters’ homes.
Flood said also Busch and Prysby “obstructed and prevented” a county health official from investigating Legionnaires’ disease outbreak blamed in the deaths of 12 people in 2014 and 2015 while Flint was using river water.
Health officials have not been able to conclusively tie the water-borne legionella bacteria to the river water.
But Schuette signaled his investigation will be digging deeper into why multiple government agencies did not inform the public about the outbreak until January 2016.
“Twelve people died, so we understand the seriousness of this,” Schuette said.
Three weeks ago, Glasgow testified before a legislative committee that he was told by DEQ officials that it wasn’t necessary to add corrosion control chemicals to the Flint River water.
“You can believe I will question some of the decisions of regulators above me in the future,” Glasgow told lawmakers.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said Wednesday that Glasgow was placed on administrative leave “until we learn more about this legal matter, keeping in mind that every person is considered innocent until proven guilty.”
Glasgow's leave is unpaid, said Kristin Moore, the city of Flint's public relations director, late Wednesday.
Glasgow is expected to surrender and be arraigned at a later date, Schuette’s office said.
Meanwhile, the evidence tampering charges against Prysby and Busch are related to unlawfully altering three lead water test reports between February 2015 and August 2015, court records show.
Busch and Prysby also are accused of violating the Michigan Safe Drinking Water Act for not requiring Flint to treat its corrosive river water with corrosion-controlling chemicals that could have prevented lead from leaching from pipes.
The Attorney General’s office filed an additional misconduct charge against Prysby for issuing a permit for the Flint water plant to operate without corrosion controls after decades of getting the protective chemicals in water from Detroit.
“They had a duty to protect the citizens of Flint,” Schuette said. “They failed to discharge their duties.”
The misconduct in office charges are felonies punishable by up to five years in prison and or fines of $10,000. The evidence-tampering felonies are felonies punishable by up to four years in prison and or $10,000 fines.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said Wednesday his constituents want to see jail time for government officials responsible for causing untold damage to their health and the plumbing systems in their homes.
“I think there’s a number of people in the community who feel that way, and understandably so,” Ananich said. “I think people expect justice and this is a step toward that.”