Flint mayor responds to lawsuit that she redirected water relief donations to political fund

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FLINT (WJRT) - UPDATE (05/12/16) - Mayor Karen Weaver is talking publicly about the serious accusations against her. She says the "allegations are false."

Weaver is referring to a lawsuit filed by former City Administrator Natasha Henderson. A suit filed this week claims Weaver was diverting water relief donations to her own campaign funds.

Weaver denies it ever happened.

"I think it's really sad that someone would take advantage of the city when they are in a crisis," Weaver said.

Before the suit was even filed, the city hired attorney Brendon Basiga to investigate the allegations. That's in addition to another law firm that will represent the city in this case.

ABC12 News asked the city's chief legal counsel, Stacy Erwin Oakes, why she was hired and how much it will cost.

"It was important to me to make sure an attorney was hired who had not done work for the city and did not anticipate doing work for the city," Erwin Oakes said.

She says she doesn't know how much attorney fees will cost when all is said and done.

The Community Foundation of Greater Flint was dragged into Henderson's lawsuit. Their "Safe Water/Safe Homes" fund is allegedly the fund that Weaver was diverting money from.

The head of the non-profit, Kathi Horton, says they are completely transparent with where their money goes.

The "Safe Water/Safe Homes" was set up to fund pipe replacements in people's homes. They are working with the city on where to spend the $38,000 currently in the fund.

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UPDATE (05/11/16) - Mayor Karen Weaver is responding for the first time to a lawsuit filed by former city administrator Natasha Henderson.

Henderson says she was a whistle blower - fired only after accusing Weaver of diverting pipe replacement donations to a personal fund, which Weaver solely controlled.

Weaver says, "Legal counsel for the city will be responding to the allegations and outrageously false claims…It saddens me that someone would attempt to taint me as mayor of a city that is dealing with a major public health crisis."

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UPDATE (05/10/16) - The attorney hired to represent Flint Mayor Karen Weaver says they will fight these charges aggressively.

A lawsuit filed by former City Administrator Natasha Henderson says she was fired for blowing the whistle on Weaver. It states, Weaver was redirecting donations intended for water relief to a campaign fund called "Karenabout Flint".

ABC12 did some digging and could not find any public record under that name.

Genesee County Clerk John Gleason says it's possible for politicians to use a more discreet fund, known as a social welfare organization or 501(c)(4). They are loosely regulated through the IRS so the money can be used more freely. It gives donors the ability to give much more than they would with traditional campaign accounts.

"It's set up so you can get the max amount of money from the contributor. It's lacking in transparency and that's why they have these," Gleason said.

There is no indication that Weaver has one of these "dark money funds," but Gleason says if you are a politician in Michigan, it's common to have one. Published reports show Governor Rick Snyder has at least one.

"I would suggest that there is more money in these hidden accounts than there is in the transparent finance statements," Gleason said.

As policy, the City of Flint does not comment on pending lawsuits.

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(05/09/16) - Former Flint City Administrator, Natasha Henderson, has filed a lawsuit, citing the Whistleblowers’ Act.

Henderson was abruptly fired by Mayor Karen Weaver in February. A lawsuit filed in federal court Monday explains her side.

Henderson says Weaver was directing a city employee, Maxine Murray, to instruct people who wanted to donate to the Safe Water/Safe Homes - a donation fund set up for Flint families - to donate to Weaver’s “Karenabout Flint” fund.

It is unclear if the fund exists or what the money is used for, but the lawsuit refers to it as a possible PAC for Weaver.

Henderson allegedly told the interim city attorney at the time, Tony Chubb, to investigate this activity. Chubb allegedly told Weaver, and within hours, Henderson was fired.

Weaver supposedly told Henderson that the State of Michigan could no longer pay her, when in fact she was on the city’s payroll.

City council originally voted 7-1 against Weaver's decision to terminate Henderson. The lawsuit states that during a closed door meeting with city council, Weaver defamed Henderson. Following that meeting, there was allegedly a new vote of 9-0 in favor of Weaver’s decision to fire Henderson.

ABC12 News asked council member Scott Kincaid if Weaver tried to sway his vote. He said "no." Kincaid went on to say that the decision to switch his vote was based on several other factors.

"I've looked at some of these allegations they do surprise me, they shock me to be honest with you. It's very disappointing that someone allegedly may be taking advantage of those that were contributing to the water in Flint," Kincaid said.

We have reached out to the Mayor's office for comment. They do not comment on pending lawsuits.



 
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