Arena: Schuette team was close to adding Flint indictments

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News
Former Detroit FBI agent Andy Arena, who was the lead Flint water investigator under former Attorney General Bill Schuette, discusses on Monday, July 1, 2019, how his team conducted the Flint water probe. He was replaced by Attorney General Dana Nessel's office in February 2019.

Royal Oak — Former Flint water lead investigator Andy Arena pushed back Monday on claims that the probe produced shoddy work, contending the complicated case was methodically pursued and close to netting more indictments.

"In my opinion, additional people were going to be charged," Arena said about suspects in and out of state government connected to the water crisis. "I believe within six months (we would have been) dropping a heavy rock."

In an interview with The Detroit News, the retired head of the Detroit FBI said Michigan Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy never did a thorough debriefing with him to understand how he and his eight investigators pursued the cases he worked on with Special Prosecutor Todd Flood. Arena and Flood were hired by Republican former Attorney General Bill Schuette.

The team found "some pretty significant financial fraud" that would have resulted in criminal charges, he said, declining to identify suspects. 

More: Prosecutors slam previous probe at town hall

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Arena's comments followed Friday's two-hour town hall with Flint residents in which Hammoud and Worthy criticized the Flint probe under Arena and Flood, alleging that they failed to review and secure millions of documents and compiled "incomplete" cases that would have failed in court.

Two weeks ago, officials in Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel's office cited those reasons as they dropped criminal charges against eight former and current state and Flint officials and rebooted their probe. They reserved the right to refile charges.

Both Hammoud and Worthy, appointed to oversee the Flint investigation by Nessel, said the Schuette team didn't review 20 million documents along with 600 devices. They also said defense firms hired by the state agencies were gatekeepers of information presented to Flood's team, giving the lawyers the power to determine what investigators received.

The Schuette team did sophisticated computer work to narrow down to the most relevant Flint documents, Arena said, arguing that relevancy matters more than documents not dealing with the Flint scandal. 

"Your success is not based on how many documents you get. Your success is based on the relevancy of documents," he said.

"The smart thing to do is to go through, work with the state and get the relevant documents, not to take everything that the Department of Health has. You've got duplication, you've got email chains, all kinds of things."

Courtney Covington, a spokeswoman for Nessel's office, said in response to Arena's comments, "the Flint Water prosecution team is diligently fulfilling its commitment to an honest, ethical and complete investigation. That investigation will be the singular focus of the team's energies and attention moving forward."

Arena, 57, who retired from head of the Detroit FBI office in 2012, noted he has worked on big federal issues ranging from racketeering investigation against the Gambino crime syndicate and terrorism during 9-11 to the corruption probe of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. He currently runs the Detroit Crime Commission and took a 62% pay cut to take on the Flint probe.

Worthy and Hammoud also attacked plea agreements overseen by Flood as slaps on the wrist that weren't properly proffered, a charge Arena rejected. Each and every plea agreement, he said, was verbally proffered in front of a judge on the record and that if the person violates them, they could be prosecuted.

"When you're investigating the Gambino crime family, you don't take your shot at John Gatti," he said. "You start with the bookies and the gamblers and the loan sharks and you work your way up. As you are working your way up, you will make plea agreements."

Arena said the comments made by Hammoud and Worthy were a "besmirchment" of his reputation in law enforcement. "I said going into this three years ago my reputation means a lot to me, means a lot to my family but it's going to be the same coming out," he said.

"Yeah, I've been accused of things before. It's part of the job," he said. "But you've got to stand up to defend yourself, too. And not just me, the team that I assembled. They're hurt by this."

The team was comprised of eight former FBI, Detroit Police, State Police and Secret Service officials who had worked with him on a variety of federal cases that netted indictments and convictions.

"I'm moving on. What I have liked to have seen it through? Yeah. You have pride," Arena said. "When I talk to the investigators, that's the biggest thing, they are sad they didn't get to see it through. They felt we were close to really hammering some people."

Arena implied that Nessel prejudged the Flint investigation before taking office.

The "cardinal rule of investigation is you let the facts take you to the truth," he said, but the "sin is to know what the truth is in your mind and then finding facts to support that."

Nessel "said on many occasions that it was a tainted investigation, it was politicized, before she had seen any documentation," he said.

"So was a there a predisposition there? I don't know," Arena said. "Nobody took the time to sit down with me to ask me, a seasoned veteran of these types of cases, 'What were you thinking? Where were you going? What did you do? They found people to support their supposition."

Schuette and Arena barely knew each other when the former attorney general asked him to join the probe. He said he told Schuette that joining the team “was kind of a leap of faith but it was about the people of Flint."

Arena also scoffed at the idea that politics played a role in the investigation.

After Arena took the job, he said he had another conversation about Schuette running for governor in a race he eventually lost to Gretchen Whitmer. “I flat out told him, everybody knows you’re running for governor. Whether you’re the next governor in the state of Michigan is not concern of mine,” Arena recalled. “We’re going to do this my way with my people. You get that, you understand that? Bill said yes.”

Flood and Arena, he said, took different angles to the investigation with Arena's team investigating how the whole water switch occurred and Flood events after the water switch decision. Then they would compare notes and cooperate. 

But Hammoud thought the approach meant they had two investigations going at once, Arena said, adding that's not the case.

When asked if Nessel's office has hurt potential criminal cases with their actions, Arena said, "I hope not."

"I wish them the best. It's their prerogative to bring in whoever they want, it's their prerogative to do it the way they want to do it," he said. "I hope and pray to God that they are successful. The people of Flint deserve that."


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