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“He was just there to shut me up:” Flint water crisis victim shines light on fmr. top aide’s criminal charges

Published: Jan. 14, 2021 at 10:42 PM EST
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FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) (1/14/2021)--“He will be vindicated!. This man has done nothing wrong. He will be acquitted and I am proud to stand here next to him today.”

Richard Baird’s Attorney made his position known Thursday regarding the criminal charges against his client, one of nine indicted in connection to the Flint water crisis.

But one Flint family was not surprised to see Baird facing 20 years of possible prison time. They tell ABC12 that when they spoke out about how the water had poisoned their family, Baird made them an offer.

“There’s nothing they can do to these people.”

In those first dark days, Keri Webber often wondered about the mysterious illness stalking her family. They’ve since each tested positive for lead. They’ve buried the family pets. She and her husband have each suffered strokes. It’s her daughter’s legionnaire’s diagnosis, however, that seems to haunt her most.

“It became horribly aware… give me a second,” Webber choked-up during a Thursday phone call. “In 2016, we found out my daughter has liver problems…. She still has liver problems and she needs a liver replacement.”

It was her vocal outcry during a town hall with Snyder and others, Webber revealed, that began her family’s two-year relationship with Richard Baird.

“We don’t have Medicaid,” she admitted tearfully. “That was the first time ‘good old Richard’ offered to help me.”

A near ubiquitous figure through the early days of the water crisis, Baird’s attorneys tell ABC12 the Flint native had voluntarily returned home to deal with the painful aftermath, even procuring a nearby apartment to continue his work.

A bombshell investigation by VICE offered another, more nefarious potential motive: publishers claim prosecutors were looking into an alleged payoff scheme between Baird and a handful of sick, outspoken locals. Webber tells ABC12 he approached her with one of those sweetheart deals.

“He offered to… personally send us some assistance,” Webber related. “Anything he could do to just make us go away… He was just there to shut me up.”

At that point, Webber cut off contact with the man she referred to as then-Governor Rick Snyder’s fixer.

“I told him flat out,” she said.

The two-page indictment filed this week with the 67th District Court lists four counts against the former top advisor: lying to investigators under oath during a March 2017 interview, improperly using state personnel and resources, attempting to interfere with ongoing legal proceedings and threatening a state agency investigating the source of the city’s legionnaire’s disease.

“How would you respond to the current charges against your client?”

“The charges are baseless. They’re without merit.”

Randall Levine is managing partner of a West Michigan law firm and Baird’s attorney.

“We’re looking forward to the government bringing the evidence in to support the accusations,” Levine related during a Thursday Zoom interview. “I know he’ll be acquitted.”

Baird was not among the first slate of Snyder associates originally charged by prosecutors. After starting from scratch, the current investigation went all the way to the top, naming the former governor’s right-hand-man.

This reporter asked Levine why his client had later publicly called for an end to the investigation, months after a number of his electronic devices had been seized as part of the probe into wrongdoing by top administration officials.

“What was his rationale there?”

“Look, if Mr. Baird had done anything wrong, I presume with two attorneys general, millions of dollars of taxpayer funds spent investigating this case, they would have discovered something,” he responded.

Webber--now an outspoken advocate who has taken her story to virtually every government agency and all the way to Capitol Hill—said she was pleased with the charges against Baird and others, though admitted nothing could make her family whole again.

“Our house was like the equivalent of toxic waste,” she related. “I handed my daughter glass after glass of water. She’ll never be okay.”

If convicted, Richard Baird faces up to 20 years in prison.

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