Plea reached for ex-state worker in Flint water crisis

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

Flint — A former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services official, facing criminal charges for her actions during Flint’s water crisis, entered into a plea agreement Wednesday with state prosecutors.

Corinne Miller, who retired as director of the state’s bureau of epidemiology earlier this year, had been charged by Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office with failing to respond properly to an early report that city children were dealing with lead contamination. In addition, she was accused of instructing state health employees to delete emails pertaining to the report.

Corinne Miller, a former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services official, facing criminal charges for her actions during Flint’s water crisis, entered into a plea agreement with state prosecutors Wednesday.

It is unclear exactly what Miller’s cooperation will mean for prosecutors going forward. The plea agreement references a Suspect 1 and Suspect 2 who are linked to the state’s handling of information about a spike in Legionnaire’s Disease cases that occurred between April 2014 and October 2015.

Special Assistant Attorney General Todd Flood declined to go into detail about the suspects or what information Miller brings to the table. But it is clear prosecutors are targeting state officials who knew early in 2015, and perhaps before, of the increased Legionnaire’s cases that resulted in 12 deaths.

The state’s knowledge of that spike — centered in Flint and Genesee County immediately following the city’s switch to a new water source — was not made public until a year later, in January 2016.

“Defendant knew it was foreseeable that unless something was done regarding the water source, more people could contract Legionnaire’s Disease,” Flood read from the agreement. “The defendant knew that Legionnaire’s Disease could be fatal...

“The defendant had evidence that the victims had died due to complications from Legionnaire’s Disease. Defendant along with others from DHHS knew that unless the state provided proper notice, for example, the issuance of an imminent danger notice... it could be reasonably foreseeable that other innocent victims could be afflicted with Legionnaire’s Disease.”

Despite Flood’s unwillingness to discuss the identities of Suspect 1 and Suspect 2, wording in the plea agreement indicates they were likely Miller’s superiors and that they were made aware early on of the Legionnaire’s problems.

“(Miller), on around January 28, 2015, was tasked by Suspect 1 to provide a report of the 2014 outbreak of Legionannaire’s in Genesee County and to meet with Suspect 2.”

“…(Miller) reported to suspect 2 that the outbreak was related to the switch in the water source…”

“(Miller) stipulates 42 cases (of Legionnaire’s) constitute an epidemic. (Miller) provided this detailed information to Suspect 2.”

Miller pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of neglect of duty in office Wednesday in exchange for providing information to investigators. The misdemeanor charge carries a maximum penalty of a year in prison and penalty of $1,000.

Miller stood before Judge Jennifer Manley Wednesday, saying little other than short answers to questions.

“The reason (for the plea) is simply there could be potential civil actions that come from this,” said Miller’s attorney, Kristen Guinn.

Flood outlined the state’s case for charging Miller with neglect of duty, saying she failed to act on information about an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease in Genesee County in 2014 and 2015.

Manley accepted the plea saying: “I also find a factual basis to find you are guilty, and I will accept your plea to willful neglect of duty as a public officer.”

Miller is the second government official to strike a plea deal in the Flint water crisis. In May, Flint’s water utility administrator Michael Glasgow pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor count of willful neglect of duty in exchange for cooperating with state and federal investigations.

He had faced a felony charge of tampering with evidence.

A total of six state employees — all within DHHS and the Department of Environmental Quality — have faced criminal charges stemming from the Flint water crisis. The city’s lead contamination problems began in April 2014, when Flint severed ties with long-time provider the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

The city, while under the control of an emergency financial manager appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder, began drawing its water from the Flint River in an attempt to save money. Flint planned to eventually tie into a new regional system — the Karegnondi Water Authority.

A failure to properly treat the river water before pumping it through the city’s lines resulted in lead contamination. The lack of corrosion controls in the water is believed to have caused high levels of lead to appear in the blood work of Flint children, damaged city infrastructure and, possibly, to have caused a spike in cases of Legionnaire’s disease.

Following the hearing, Flood did not discount the possibility of filing charges against new defendants in the future.

“As Attorney General Bill Schuette has said, we’re just following the facts,” he said. “There is no one off the table. We’re going to follow the facts and the evidence to the conclusion.”

(313) 222-2034d