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Ex-Flint EM Earley arraigned on criminal charges

Jennifer Chambers

Former Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley was arraigned Wednesday on criminal charges connected to the city’s water crisis.

Earley appeared with his attorney, Todd Perkins, in 67th District Court in Flint where he was arraigned on false pretenses, conspiracy to commit false pretenses, misconduct in office and willful neglect of duty while in office. The charges carry up to 20 years in prison.

Judge Nathaniel Perry III set bond at $50,000 for each count. Earley’s next court date is a probable cause conference on Jan. 3.

On Tuesday, the Michigan Attorney General’s Office filed criminal charges against Earley, former emergency manager Gerald Ambrose and two former city public works employees.

The charges stem from the city providing water to residents that was not properly treated, leading to lead contamination and likely causing an outbreak of deadly Legionnaires’ disease, prosecutors said.

67th District Judge William H. Crawford II approved the charges after hearing from investigators, who spoke of a concerted effort to move the city from its traditional water source — the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department’s Lake Huron system to the Flint River.

And they did so, according to investigators, knowing the city’s treatment plant was not up to the task.

Regarding Earley, who served as Flint’s emergency manager from 2013-15, Special Agent Jeff Seipenko said: “He knew the plant was not prepared to produce water and, nevertheless, allowed it to be provided to the public.”

Later, despite rising public concerns over health issues, both Earley and Ambrose, who succeed Earley as emergency manager in 2015, failed to return Flint to its previous water source, prosecutors said.

On Tuesday, Ambrose, Former Flint Public Works Director Howard Croft and his former subordinate, Daugherty Johnson, were arraigned on criminal charges and personal bonds were set.

Their next hearing is a probable cause conference on Dec. 29.

Many of Tuesday’s charges are linked to an administrative consent order issued by Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality that cleared the way for Flint to switch its water source to the Flint River in April 2014.

The river was meant to save Flint money until it could link up with the newly formed Karegnondi Water Authority and its pipeline system that draws from Lake Huron.

But a failure to properly treat river water at the city’s plant resulted in lead contamination and, possibly, a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in 2014 and 2015.

In 2013, Flint leadership sought the order to help ease the city’s “ability to access bond funding” for the new Lake Huron water pipeline project.

Flint stated it needed to clean up its water treatment plant’s lime sludge dumping ground to get financing for the $285 million project, public records show.

The city needed to show its plant was capable of properly treating water.

The number of government officials charged in the crisis is now 13.

A court hearing scheduled Wednesday for nine other previously charged government workers was adjourned due to a death in the family of one of the attorneys, court officials said.

The current and former state employees face criminal charges for their alleged roles in the city’s water crisis.

All face charges centering on an alleged failure to perform their roles in protecting public health.

Stephen Busch, Patrick Cook, Michael Glasgow, Corrine Miller, Nancy Peeler, Michael Prysby, Adam Rosenthal, Robert Scott and Liane Shekter-Smith were to appear Wednesday before Judge Jennifer Manley with the 67th District Court.

The hearing was to discuss the distribution of documents, specifically Michigan State Police documents, in preparation for a preliminary examination in the cases scheduled for March and April.

The defendants are not required to attend, court officials said.

Glasgow struck a plea deal with the Michigan Attorney General’s Office in May. Manley took the plea under advisement while Glasgow continues to cooperate with the state’s criminal investigation into the water crisis.

Busch and Prysby are Department of Environmental Quality water regulators charged with misconduct and other crimes. Rosenthal, a DEQ analyst, and Cook, a water regulator, face charges including misconduct in office and willful neglect of duty.

Schuette has accused Department of Health and Human Services workers Peeler and Scott of “burying” a report about elevated lead levels in the blood of Flint children in July 2015 — about two months before the department acknowledged there was a problem.

Fired DEQ municipal water chief Shekter-Smith faces charges stemming from Schuette’s probe.

Retired DHHS director of epidemiology Miller took a plea deal in September. She had been charged 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.