Two of Flint’s former state-appointed emergency managers and two former City of Flint employees were charged with felonies of false pretenses and conspiracy on Tuesday, CNN reports.
Emergency managers Jerry Ambrose and Darnell Early reported directly to Governor Rick Snyder during Flint’s years-long financial crisis and are the highest-level officials to be charged so far.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette alleged that the defendants conspired to operate the Flint Water Treatment Plant when it wasn’t safe to do so and misled the Michigan Department of Treasury in order to secure millions in bonds.
They allegedly masked their request as being for environmental clean-up related to water treatment, and then misused the funds to finance the construction of a new pipeline and force the city’s drinking water source to be switched to the Flint River.
The other two officials who were charged, Howard Croft, who was the public works superintendent, and Daugherty Johnson, the utilities administrator, were involved in making the switch from purchasing water from Detroit to treating water from the Flint River.
Officials pushed ahead with the switch in April 2014, despite the fact that they knew that the Flint Water Treatment Plant was not ready to deliver safe drinking water, Schuette alleged at a press conference according to the Detroit Free Press.
“So many people knew that that plant was not ready — and yet it was done,” Andrew Arena, the former special agent in charge of the FBI in Detroit, who is now Schuette’s lead investigator. “That’s the thing that shocked me.”
Water at the plant is not treated with anti-corrosive agents (called phosphates) due to concerns it would grow bacteria. Without those agents, the water corroded the lead pipes, causing lead to leach into drinking water, poisoning hundreds of children.
The corrosion also allowed other bacteria, including legionella, the cause of Legionnaire’s disease, to flourish. A dozen people died due to a Legionnaire’s outbreak in Flint, CNN reports.
Schuette alleged that the defendants had put finances ahead of Flint residents. In bringing charges, he said there was “a fixation with finances and balance sheets … at the expense of public health and safety.”
Defendant Dougherty Johnson entered a not guilty plea in an arraignment Tuesday afternoon and received a $25,000 personal bond on each count.
After the brief hearing, his attorney, Edwar Zeineh, said he’s waiting for information on the case, but described his client as a “worker’s worker,” the Detroit Free Press reports.
“We will stand with Mr. Johnson and his not guilty plea throughout the proceedings,” Zeineh said.
Schuette has brought charges against 13 people so far and brought suits against two engineering firms. At Tuesday’s conference, he reiterated that no one is immune from the investigation.
“There are voices out there that hope the poisoning of the water in Flint could be swept under the rug. And they hope and wish that the 24-hour news cycle would move on to another subject,” he said. “Flint deserves better, and the people of Flint are not expendable, so to move on is unacceptable.”