Michigan?s Attorney General, Bill Schuette, charged four former city officials with several crimes, including conspiracy and false pretenses. If convicted, they could face up to 20 years in prison.
Even if most of Flint, Michigan?s residents remain without clean drinking water, justice may be done after all. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who has been leading the official investigation into the Flint water crisis, has now targeted four former city officials who had key roles in causing the catastrophe. Two of the officials were former emergency managers of Flint, Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose, the highest ranking officials yet to be charged in the still on-going investigation. The other two officials charged were former public officials Howard Croft, once Flint?s public works superintendent, and Daugherty Johnson, the city?s former utilities administrator.
Earley and Ambrose, who oversaw the city between 2014-2015, put the city $85 million in debt to join a new regional water pipeline to nearby Lake Huron, while also connecting a city water plant not properly equipped to treat the river water used to supply the city?s 100,000 residents. Flint?s water system then became contaminated by lead as corrosive river water went untreated for 18 months, an issue many city officials were well aware of at the time. The four officials charged were also shown to have been well aware that the water treatment facility was incapable of treating the water.
In addition, the city only borrowed money and tied Flint?s water supply to the Flint river when all four former officials used a phony environmental order to proceed with the regional water pipeline project ? a project whose estimated cost was around $285 million. Despite that, Schuette?s investigation found that the reason for the ill-fated decisions leading to the crisis was a ?fixation on finances and balance sheets.? All four officials have been charged with false pretenses and conspiracy, offenses which carry a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
According to the Detroit Free Press, three of the latest defendants in the Flint investigation were arraigned this past Tuesday in Flint. All three pled not guilty to all of the charged brought against them. Only Earley was not present at the arraignment and his attorney declined to comment. Including the latest charges, 13 former city officials have been charged for their role in the water crisis. Karen Weaver, the mayor of Flint, said that the charges were a symbolic indictment of how the state manages emergencies in financially troubled cities as appointed officials than usurp control over the city?s affairs from the elected mayor and city council. ?It?s taken the voice of the people and taken our democracy,? Weaver said following the announcement of the latest criminal proceedings. Though it?s nice to see justice being done on some level, it is difficult to know if any convictions will actually materialize as a result of the investigation as the US judicial system commonly protects the politically powerful at the expense of those they have harmed.
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