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More state officials charged in Flint water investigation

Jul 29, 2016

The state official once in charge of keeping drinking water safe to drink in Michigan faces criminal charges.

The charges allege Liane Shekter-Smith covered up information that could have averted the Flint water crisis.

Smith is one of six state employees charged today with misconduct and neglect, among other things.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says workers at the state Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Health and Human Services suppressed information that could have warned the public about the lead contamination of Flint’s drinking water.

Two other DEQ employees have already been charged, and a former Flint water supervisor has pleaded guilty to criminal charges.

The MDEQ and MDHHS jointly released this statement following the announcement of the charges:

"Based upon the filing of the charges, the DEQ and MDHHS will each be suspending two current employees without pay until further review of the charges can be conducted. Two additional state employees charged are no longer with DEQ or MDHHS. DEQ and MDHHS will continue to monitor the legal proceedings and evaluate next steps as appropriate."

A Total of Nine Defendants So Far

As of today, nine current and former state and local officials have been charged since the start of the investigation.

The first round of criminal charges were filed on April 20, 2016 against two Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) employees and one City of Flint employee.   A 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.

The Attorney General's  investigation remains ongoing and more charges could be filed.  

Here is the complete list of people charged today, and the charges (material provided by Attorney General's office):

MDEQ Employee Charges:

Today’s charges include high-ranking officials at the MDEQ who failed in their duties to ensure the provision of safe drinking water and worked to make sure the Flint Water Treatment Plant stayed up and running regardless of the outcome or warning signs its operation was resulting in water poisoned with lead.

  • Liane Shekter-Smith: Charges allege that former high-ranking MDEQ official Liane Shekter-Smith, then-Chief of the Office of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance, held key responsibilities for ensuring the provision of clean, safe drinking water for the citizens of Flint. Despite receiving notice of citizen complaints about water quality and knowledge of a Legionnaires outbreak and issues with lead levels, Shekter-Smith, in her high-ranking position that included supervision of key MDEQ employees, not only allegedly failed to take corrective action or notify public health officials but, in fact took steps to mislead and conceal evidence from health officials in phone calls revealed by the investigation.

Liane Shekter-Smith, former Chief of Drinking Water and Municipal Assistance
1 count, Misconduct in Office (Felony: 5 years and/or $10,000)
1 count, Willful Neglect of Duty (Misdemeanor: 1 year and/or $1,000)

  • Adam Rosenthal: Charges allege that current MDEQ employee Adam Rosenthal, who worked in Shekter-Smith’s section, was warned by Flint Water Treatment Plant officials that they were not ready for operations and was later warned by the EPA that high levels of lead is usually due to particulate lead, signaling a corrosion problem. Charges allege that in 2015, Rosenthal willfully participated in the manipulation of lead testing results and falsely reported that the 90th percentile of the results for lead water testing was below the federal action level.  Eventually, a July 28, 2015 report was altered to exclude some high lead tests and Rosenthal forwarded the altered report on. Previously charged MDEQ employees Busch and Prsyby were also allegedly involved.   

Adam Rosenthal, Water Quality Analyst
1 count, Misconduct in Office (Felony: 5 years and/or $10,000)
1 count, Willful Neglect of Duty (Misdemeanor: 1 year and/or $1,000)
1 count, Tampering with Evidence (Felony: 4 years and/or $5,000)
1 count, Conspiracy— Tampering with Evidence (Felony: 4 years and/or $10,000)

  • Patrick Cook: Charges allege that Cook, who is the current MDEQ official responsible for compliance with lead and copper monitoring, signed a permit in 2014 that was the last approval necessary for the use of the Flint Water Treatment Plant. Cook subsequently was aware of problems with the water in Flint but allegedly took no corrective action in his duty to ensure the provision of clean, safe drinking water in Flint. Cook allegedly mislead the EPA regarding the necessity of using corrosion control in Flint after the switch when he allegedly forwarded information he knew to be false to the EPA in response to its inquire. 

Patrick Cook, Specialist for Community Drinking Water Unit
1 count, Willful Neglect of Duty (Misdemeanor: 1 year and/or $1,000)
1 count, Misconduct in Office (Felony: 5 years and/or $10,000)
1 count, Conspiracy (Felony: 5 years and/or $10,000)

MDHHS Employee Charges:

Today’s charges allege that these MDHHS defendants discovered that Flint children were being poisoned by lead but suppressed that information, keeping it from reaching doctors and health officials who sought to protect the welfare of the children and citizens of Flint. 

Nancy Peeler, Robert Scott and Corinne Miller: In July of 2015, Nancy Peeler, Director of the MDHHS Program for Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting, requested an internal report on blood lead level data in Flint children.  That report, created on July 28, 2015 using sound scientific principles, showed a significant spike— higher than usual— in blood lead tests for Flint children for the summer of 2014.  However, the charges allege that that report was buried, never forwarded by Peeler or others to appropriate health officials. 

Peeler then joined with a different MDHHS employee, Robert Scott, the Data Manager for the Healthy Homes and Lead Prevention program, and created a second report, issued two days after the initial report.  The second report falsely indicated no statistically significant rise in blood lead levels of children in the summer of 2014. 

Meanwhile, Corinne Miller, the then-Director of the Bureau of Epidemiology and State Epidemiologist, received the first report but instructed others not to take action, rebuffing other employees who asked about next steps of action. The charges allege that Miller later instructed another MDHHS employee to delete emails concerning the original blood lead data report from July 28, 2015.

The investigation also revealed that on day the first blood lead level report was created, July 28, 2015, there was communication between MDEQ Defendant Liane Shekter-Smith and MDHHS.  This was the same time that MDEQ defendants allegedly were manipulating lead water results to conceal unsafe lead levels.  Despite knowledge to the contrary, the investigation showed that Shekter-Smith allegedly told MDHHS that there were no lead issues with Flint’s drinking water. 

  • Nancy Peeler, Director, Program for Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting
    1 count, Misconduct in Office (Felony: 5 years and/or $10,000)
    1 count, Conspiracy, (Felony, 5 years and/or $10,000)
    1 count, Willful Neglect of Duty (Misdemeanor, 1 year and/or $1,000)
  • Robert Scott, Data Manager for the Healthy Homes and Lead Prevention program
    1 count, Misconduct in Office (Felony: 5 years and/or $10,000)
    1 count, Conspiracy, (Felony, 5 years and/or $10,000)
    1 count, Willful Neglect of Duty (Misdemeanor, 1 year and/or $1,000)
  • Corinne Miller, Former Director of the Bureau of Epidemiology and State Epidemiologist
    1 count, Misconduct in Office (Felony: 5 years and/or $10,000)
    1 count, Conspiracy, (Felony, 5 years and/or $10,000)
    1 count, Willful Neglect of Duty (Misdemeanor, 1 year and/or $1,000