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State prosecutors spent nearly $3.5 million to bring new Flint water cases

That total doesn’t include two top Wayne County prosecutors, who are paid by taxpayers there for work in Flint
Published: Sep. 10, 2021 at 5:05 PM EDT
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FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - The anger and frustration hasn’t gone away for people affected by Flint’s water crisis.

It’s been over seven years since the water switch, when contaminated water began flowing into their homes and poisoned them. To date, no one has been held criminally responsible for changing their lives forever.

“There’s no transparency, there’s no results and I’m sure that we’re paying plenty out of our taxes to have nothing be done,” said Flint water activist Melissa Mays.

The Michigan Attorney General’s Office issued new criminal charges in January. Seven months later, those cases may finally start to move forward now that the grand jury transcripts are available to those charged.

Former Governor Rick Snyder is due back in court Monday for a hearing.

ABC12 News filed a public records request, asking for the dollar amount the Attorney General’s Office spent in the two years since the new administration took over in January 2019. The first prosecution team’s work was thrown out six months later, as two top state health officials were expected to stand trial for their alleged role in the water crisis.

A year and a half after that, nine people were charged with a total of 42 crimes -- seven of them for the second time.

The Attorney General’s Office says it spent $3,427,751.14 on the second investigation and prosecution.

That dollar amount covers the cost of office supplies, undefined “other purchased services,” contracted staff, technology, travel, out-of-state lodging and overtime hours.

The largest amount of spending has been on salaries and benefits for prosecutors. In the two-year span, 19 people working on the investigation made a total of more than $1.7 million, which is about half of the total spending on the cases.

However, those investigators and prosecutors likely didn’t devote all of their work hours to the investigation.

“Are you kidding me? When they said they were up there at the town hall saying how much money -- how much of our tax dollars -- that Todd Flood’s team had wasted over three years, and they had 59 charges going to actual trial and 15 defendants,” Mays said.

She’s been an advocate for her family and her community since the first drop of discolored water came out of her faucet. Mays said the legal process has played out exactly as the water crisis did.

“All it does is take us right back to emergency management, where we had Governor Snyder and his appointed emergency manager -- one person making decisions for the entire city and we’re left out of it,” she said.

The Attorney General’s Office dropped the charges in June 2019, then the team used a secretive one-man grand jury process to bring new the charges a year and a half later. This choice doesn’t allow even the defendants to see the evidence against them.

“We’re being told just you sit down and trust us,” Mays said. “Well, you’ve done nothing to earn our trust.”

She and other community members trusted the original lead prosecutor, Todd Flood, because he kept them up to date on any developments. He met with them and he lived in Flint for a period of time.

Mays is not aware of the attorney general’s team reaching out to anyone at any point in the last two years.

“They seem to forget that the criminal charges, everything, it’s about us. It’s about Flint, not about whatever political thing you’re trying to do,” she said.

Mays said she doesn’t believe this new round of charges is worth it and doesn’t have any hope it will be.

“I would rather see $3.4 million going into the homes and bodies of the people who have been victimized,” she said. “So I don’t know maybe we can see a recovery, because if you’re not going to do a good job and put these people behind bars, don’t waste our time and our money. Just actually, why don’t you just invest and start replacing people’s, you know, infrastructure that the government ruined.”

Mays was even more upset to find out that the public records request wasn’t fulfilled properly by the state government.

“Well, I do know that I got 30 names and you got 20 names. I find that interesting,” said Jim Havemen, a former director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

He has some vested interest in these criminal cases, because he’s friends with another former state health director, Nick Lyon, who’s facing charges in the new investigation. So he was after the same information as ABC12 when the Attorney General’s Office announced the new charges.

“The attorney general, Nessel, has talked about transparency in government and how open she is and I had to wait five months and spend $1,600,” Haveman said.

ABC12 only had to wait three months and pay a third of that cost. But when Haveman shared his results, he received more information. So then it took another few months for ABC12′s request to be completely fulfilled.

Eleven people were missing from the initial response from the attorney general’s FOIA team, including Molly Kettler and Kym Worthy, who have been running several of the court hearings.

It turns out, they’re not being paid through the Attorney General’s Office. They are being paid by Wayne County taxpayers for their work on the Flint water cases.

Worthy is the elected Wayne County prosecutor, who was tapped to co-lead the second Flint water investigation. Kettler is a top assistant in Worthy’s office.

“I just found it interesting that she went outside, because she criticized the fact that Todd Flood was an outsider, but then she went outside and brought in Kym Worthy. So it’s just the inconsistency,” Haveman said.

The personnel records also revealed several last-minute hires in the final months leading up to January’s announcement of new charges, including Attorney General Dana Nessel’s former law partner.

It’s clear only two members of the current team were kept from the original investigation led by Flood.

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