Four More Officials Charged in Third Round of Flint Water Crisis Criminal Investigation

FLINT – Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette today charged two former State of Michigan Emergency Managers, Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose, with multiple 20-year felonies for their failure to protect the citizens of Flint from health hazards caused by contaminated drinking water. 

Additionally, Schuette announced that Earley and Ambrose, along with ex-City of Flint executives Howard Croft and Daugherty Johnson, also face felony charges of false pretenses and conspiracy to commit false pretenses related to their roles in a process that led to the issuance bonds to pay for a portion of the KWA water project. 

Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, Flint Water Investigation Special Prosecutor Todd Flood, and Chief Investigator Andy Arena joined Schuette at today’s announcement, the third round of criminal charges brought by Schuette in the Flint Water Investigation.  Schuette has also filed a round of civil law suits against water supply engineering firms. 

What Went Wrong

The false pretenses and conspiracy to commit false pretense charges against Earley and Ambrose are based on the Defendants gaining authorization to borrow millions using the alleged reason of an environmental calamity. 

Without the funds from Flint, the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) Pipeline would have to be mothballed. However, as a bankrupt city, Flint needed the Michigan Department of Treasury’s approval to get loans. 

Emergency Manager Earley’s attempts to get funds in January and February of 2014 were rejected because the City was in receivership, had a $13-million deficit and no credit rating. State law banned the City from accumulating any more debt. 

However, the Defendants allegedly used the Home Rule City Act emergency bond clause, created to deal with cases of “fire, flood, or other calamity,” to borrow the tens of millions required to pay for Flint’s portion of the KWA. The clean-up of a troublesome lime sludge lagoon – holding by-products of water treatment – became the vehicle to get a state waiver for the bonds.

To make the situation even worse, tucked inside the 15-page Statement of Purpose for an upgrade of Flint’s Water Treatment Plant system was a one-paragraph requirement that bound the city to use the Flint River as an interim water source, and the Flint Water Treatment Plant as the sanitizing and distribution center.

The Flint Water Treatment Plant, however, was not ready to produce safe, clean water to the citizens of Flint. Regardless, the Defendants mandated the City to use the Flint Water Treatment Plant as part of the deal to get the ability to issue bonds.

Defendants Croft and Johnson allegedly pressured employees of the Flint Water Treatment Plant to get the plant in working order before April of 2014, the scheduled date for re-start. When the deadline closed in, rather than sound the alarm, the defendants allegedly ignored warnings and test results and shut off the pipes pulling clean water from Detroit, and turned on the Flint River valves. 

Defendants and Charges

Darnell Earley: Earley, of Lansing, was appointed as Flint’s Emergency Manager by Gov. Rick Snyder, serving from September 2013 until January 2015.  He is charged with the following:

  • False Pretenses, Felony: 20 Years and/or $35,000, or 3 times the value of the money or property involved, whichever is greater.
    • Allegedly participated in a process that allowed the use bonds to fund the construction of the KWA pipeline despite the City’s problem with its high debt level. The City of Flint, with MDEQ approval, used an exception to state law by claiming the bonds were needed to fund an emergency cleanup of a retention pond, when in fact the funds were intended to pay for the KWA. During that time, the defendants actively worked in various fashions to discourage a return to using water produced by the Detroit Water and Sewer Department, require the use of Flint River water through a Flint Water Treatment Plant, that was deemed unready for service by several people involved with its management, and to ensure the construction of the KWA. 
  • Conspiracy to Commit False Pretenses, Felony: 20 Years and/or $35,000, or 3 times the value of the money or property involved, whichever is greater.
  • Misconduct in Office, Felony, 5 Years and/or $10,000.00
    • Allegedly allowed the Flint Water Treatment Plant to produce water despite knowledge the plant was not ready for use, allowed Flint to enter into a contract requiring use of the Flint Water Treatment Plant during that time, and authorized false and misleading public statements that the water was safe to drink.
  • Willful Neglect of Duty in Office, Misdemeanor: 1 Year and/or $1,000.00
    • Allegedly failed to perform his duty of protecting the public health.

Gerald Ambrose: Ambrose, of Wyoming, MI, began working for the City of Flint in January 2012, first as finance director for three emergency managers and then succeeded Earley when he was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder as emergency manager from January 2015 to April of 2015. He is charged with the following:

  • False Pretenses, Felony: 20 Years and/or $35,000, or 3 times the value of the money or property involved, whichever is greater.
    • Allegedly participated in a process that allowed the use bonds to fund the construction of the KWA pipeline despite the City’s problem with its high debt level. The City of Flint, with MDEQ approval, used an exception to state law by claiming the bonds were needed to fund an emergency cleanup of a retention pond, when in fact the funds were intended to pay for the KWA. During that time, the defendants actively worked in various fashions to discourage a return to using water produced by the Detroit Water and Sewer Department, require the use of Flint River water through a Flint Water Treatment Plant, that was deemed unready for service by several people involved with its management, and to ensure the construction of the KWA. 
  • Conspiracy to Commit False Pretenses, Felony: 20 Years and/or $35,000, or 3 times the value of the money or property involved, whichever is greater.
  • Misconduct in Office, Felony, 5 Years and/or $10,000.00
    • Allegedly obstructed and hindered a healthcare investigation conducted by the Genesee County Health Department with regard to the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak.
  • Willful Neglect of Duty in Office, Misdemeanor: 1 Year and/or $1,000.00
    • Allegedly failed to perform his duty of protecting the public health.

Howard Croft and Daugherty Johnson: Croft was the City of Flint’s Director of the Department of Public Works from December 2011 to November 17, 2015. Johnson served as the City of Flint’s Utilities Director for the Department of Public Works.  They are charged with the following:

  • False Pretenses, Felony: 20 Years and/or $35,000, or 3 times the value of the money or property involved, whichever is greater.
    • Croft and Johnson are alleged to have aided and abetted Defendants Ambrose and Earley in in a process that allowed the use bonds to fund the construction of the KWA pipeline despite the City’s problem with its high debt level. The City of Flint, with MDEQ approval, used an exception to state law by claiming the bonds were needed to fund an emergency cleanup of a retention pond, when in fact the funds were intended to pay for the KWA. During that time, the defendants actively worked in various fashions to discourage a return to using water produced by the Detroit Water and Sewer Department, require the use of Flint River water through a Flint Water Treatment Plant, that was deemed unready for service by several people involved with its management, and to ensure the construction of the KWA. 
  • Conspiracy to Commit False Pretenses, Felony: 20 Years and/or $35,000, or 3 times the value of the money or property involved, whichever is greater.

13 Defendants in Flint Water Case Thus Far 

As of today, in total, Schuette has filed 43 criminal charges against 13 current and former state and local officials since the start of the Flint Water Investigation, which has included interviews with approximately 200 witnesses. 

The first round of criminal charges from Schuette’s Flint Water Investigation were filed on April 20, 2016 against two Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) employees and one City of Flint employee. Schuette’s second legal action took place on June 22, 2016, when he filed a civil suit against water infrastructure firms Veolia and Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam for their roles in the Flint water poisoning crisis. In July, Schuette filed 18 criminal charges against four current and two former employees from two state departments.

Comments offered by Attorney General Bill Schuette: 

“All too prevalent in this Flint Water Investigation was a priority on balance sheets and finances rather than health and safety of the citizens of Flint.” 

“The crisis in Flint was a casualty of arrogance, disdain and a failure of management.  An absence of accountability. We will proceed to deliver justice and hold those accountable who broke the law.” 

Schuette's investigation remains ongoing and the charges filed today do not preclude additional charges later.  A charge is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Earley Complaint

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