LANSING, MICH. - Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has spent $2.3 million so far on his Flint water crisis criminal and civil investigation, or close to half of the $4.9 million budgeted, according to new numbers released by his office.
The costs include the salaries of 18 lawyers and support staff, 12 investigators, and the cost to file 35 charges against nine people and two companies, Schuette spokeswoman Andrea Bitely said Wednesday.
The costs of the ongoing Schuette investigation, headed by Royal Oak attorney Todd Flood, are one piece in the hundreds of millions of dollars — and possibly more — the lead poisoning of Flint's drinking water supply is expected to cost state government.
So far, just more than one year after the state acknowledged the public health crisis, the Legislature has appropriated $234 million for Flint to help pay for bottled water and water filters, replace lead pipes, partly cover the cost of water bills, provide nutritious food, and address lead-related health issues, particularly in children.
But the state faces more costs. For example, Schuette used $1 million from his existing operating budget to pay some of the costs of his Flint investigation, and it's expected the balance will come from a fund that receives proceeds from state lawsuit settlements.
Among the costs of the investigation to date:
Close to $166,000 paid to William Whitbeck, the retired Michigan Court of Appeals judge who is serving as Schuette's top legal adviser on the investigation.
Close to $53,000 to rent four Hewlett Packard photocopiers, and close to $120,000 more to buy and maintain computer and software systems that are separated from the Attorney General's Office and the rest of state government.
Close to $2.2 million in legal consulting fees — salaries paid to Flood and other attorneys who bill as much as $400 an hour, paralegals who bill as little as $15 an hour, and many rates of pay in between. Andrew Arena, the former Detroit FBI director who is lead investigator, bills at $165 per hour, according to a contract released earlier this year by Schuette's office.
More than $78,000 in expenditures related to unnamed expert witnesses.
About $12,800 paid to Verizon for cell phones and related services.
The total contract for the investigation, initially set at $249,000, was increased to $1.5 million in March and then to $4.9 million in June.
Aside from the Schuette investigation, the state is facing millions more in legal costs as Gov. Rick Snyder and other state officials retain lawyers, in many cases with outside attorneys paid for by taxpayers.
Snyder had paid just more than $609,000 in civil defense fees to Barris, Sott, Denn & Driker in Detroit, for a contract capped at $1.4 million, spokeswoman Andrea Heaton said Thursday. He's also paid nearly $800,000 in criminal defense and record management fees to Warner Norcross of Grand Rapids. That contract is capped at $2 million.
On Wednesday, Flint resident Keri Webber and attorney Mark Brewer, the former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, petitioned the Ingham County Circuit Court to appoint a one-judge grand jury to investigate Snyder charging his criminal defense fees to taxpayers.
Heaton says the charges are proper because they relate to Snyder's official role as governor.
Flint's water became contaminated with lead in April 2014, while the city was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has acknowledged it failed to require the addition of needed corrosion-control chemicals when Flint switched its water supply, as a temporary cost-cutting move, from Lake Huron water treated in Detroit to Flint River water treated at the Flint Water Treatment Plant. As a result, lead, which is harmful to the developing brains of children, leached from pipes, joints and fixtures into the water supply.
Flint switched its water source back to Detroit in October 2015, but potential danger remains because of damage to the water delivery infrastructure. Residents are still instructed not to drink the tap water without using a filter.
Schuette has brought criminal charges against eight current or former state employees and one City of Flint employee. He's also brought civil charges against two companies that did work related to the Flint Water Treatment Plant.
Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @paulegan4.
© 2016 Detroit Free Press