State officials plead no contest in Flint crisis

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Michael Prysby

Two state environmental officials have pleaded no contest to misdemeanors as part of an agreement in the state’s ongoing prosecution of more than a dozen individuals in the Flint water crisis.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality employees Michael Prysby and Stephen Busch have agreed to testify against others as part of the plea agreement.

Prysby pleaded no contest to a one-year misdemeanor violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act on Wednesday, according to his lawyer, Chris Bergstrom. His sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 23. 

During the Wednesday hearing, Prysby pleaded no contest to knowing that construction work at the city's water treatment plant, which would eventually accept corrosive water from the Flint River in April 2014, "had started prior to the actual issuance of a permit," Bergstrom said.

Should Prysby, an environmental engineer for the DEQ, cooperate with prosecutors, the charge and several others against him will be dismissed. Prysby noted during the hearing Wednesday that the officials with authority to allow the use of the plant were the state-appointed emergency managers, Bergstrom said.

Stephen Busch

Busch, a district supervisor for the DEQ, pleaded no contest to a disturbance of lawful meetings in relation to a January 2015 meeting in which Busch was accused of not responding to residents' concerns, a meeting that eventually had to be concluded early because of disorder. 

Busch also must cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for the dismissal of all pending charges against him. 

His lawyer, Mark Kriger, declined to comment Wednesday because of the pending case. 

Both Busch and Prysby originally had been charged with two counts of misconduct in office, one count of conspiracy to tamper with evidence, one count of tampering with evidence and two counts of violating of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The Michigan Attorney General's Office alleged Prysby and Busch downplayed sampling that showed extraordinarily high lead levels at a Flint home while corresponding with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Attorney General Bill Schuette’s probe also alleged Prysby and Busch “obstructed and prevented” a county health official from investigating a Legionnaires’ disease outbreak blamed for the deaths of 12 people in 2014 and 2015.

Prysby is one of 15 state and local officials charged following the lead contamination crises and subsequent Legionnaires’ disease outbreak. He is the fifth person to take a plea deal.

Earlier this month, State Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells was bound over for trial on involuntary manslaughter and several other criminal charges related to the city’s water crisis.

The ruling in her case came a few months after another judge ruled Michigan health and welfare chief Nick Lyon also would go to trial on several charges, including one for involuntary manslaughter.

It is unclear whether the incoming Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel will retain special prosecutor Todd Flood and his Flint water crisis investigative team. Nessel has suggested she may re-examine the Flint probe.

The Associated Press contributed.


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