DEQ water analyst agrees to plea in Flint water case

Michael Gerstein

Flint — A water quality analyst for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality agreed to a plea deal Wednesday with prosecutors in Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s criminal probe over the city’s water crisis.

Adam Rosenthal — whom special prosecuting attorney Todd Flood described as being “very low in the totem pole” of DEQ involvement in the lead-tainted water crisis — pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor related to failing to offer “reasonable facilities” to inspect records.

It’s a charge punishable by up to a $1,000 fine or one year in jail, and Rosenthal is expected to continue cooperating with Flood’s far-reaching prosecution of state and local officials as part of the plea deal.

Flood told Flint’s 67th District Court Judge Jennifer Manley that Rosenthal “has been honest and candid with us to date” and that he expects him to “continue to be honest and candid with us … and will testify in court if necessary and required by the prosecution.”

After the hearing, Flood and Rosenthal’s attorney, James Burdick, declined to elaborate on the extent of his expected cooperation or the content of his testimony if he is called to testify.

Burdick had high praise for Flood, although he said most of the accusations against Rosenthal signify that his client never should have been charged in the first place.

“Yes, I feel like he should never have been charged,” said Burdick, but still called Flood “a person of honor, of integrity and sincerity” who realized during the course of the investigation that Rosenthal’s involvement in the crisis was minimal.

Burdick said Rosenthal’s only error was “failing to make facilities available for all of the investigators who descended one day.”

Burdick said it took “probably a day or two” longer than prosecutors wanted to obtain certain documents during the Flint water crisis criminal probe. All original charges were dropped against Rosenthal, and he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor that Flood had not charged Rosenthal with prior to the plea.

Before the plea, Rosenthal faced misconduct in office, neglect of duty and tampering with evidence charges, which could have resulted in possible time in prison and a fine if convicted. He pleaded no contest to failing to provide reasonable facilities for the inspection and examination of records and the remaining charges were dropped.

He is the fourth defendant to cut a plea deal with Flood, the second state official to reach an agreement and the first DEQ official to make a plea deal.

Rosenthal was warned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that high levels of lead are usually due to particulate lead, an indication of a corrosion problem. A task force appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder said in a March 2016 report that the failure to use corrosion control chemicals in the river water resulted in lead leaching from the city’s old pipelines.

In 2015, Rosenthal allegedly helped manipulate lead testing results and falsely reported they were below the federal action level of 15 parts per billion. Those charges were dropped.

The state acknowledged high lead levels in the city’s children in late September 2015 and switched back in mid-October 2015 to the Detroit area water system, now called the Great Lakes Water Authority.

Lead testing this year has found that Flint’s results have consistently been below the federal action level of 15 parts per billion. But the state has maintained advisories against drinking Flint’s water until all of the city’s lead lines have been replaced.

Former Flint utilities administrator Michael Glasgow pleaded guilty in May to a reduced charge of willful neglect of duty, a one-year misdemeanor. Sentencing for Glasgow was set aside as long as he cooperates with the ongoing investigation by Schuette.

Corinne Miller, who retired as director of the state’s bureau of epidemiology earlier this year, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of neglect of duty in office in exchange for providing information to investigators.

Miller originally was charged with failing to respond properly to an early report that city children were affected by lead contamination in Flint and instructing state health employees to delete emails pertaining to the report. She was sentenced to one year of probation in March.

In late November, former Flint utilities director Daugherty Johnson pleaded no contest to failing to give water documents to a Genesee County Health Department employee investigating a possible connection between Flint water and Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks that eventually killed 12 and sickened 79 others in the Flint area in 2014-15. The deal resulted in two felonies being conditionally dropped in exchange for his cooperation.