Flint Official Escapes Imprisonment, Only Has to Write Apology Letter

Yves here. Yet more confirmation that the elites, even low level elites, are a protected class, and crimes versus black/largely black communities are treated as less serious than those against largely white and/or more affluent populations. Imagine what would have happened if you had had the same level of water contamination in, say, San Francisco or Darien, Connecticut. First, the locals would have gotten serious investigations of what was happening way sooner. And being of a higher social class than the water officials, the locals would have successfully strung the parties in charge up.

Now we have the appearance that the party in question, Corrine Miller, copped a plea bargain, pleading guilty for the supposedly lesser offense of covering up for the role of the Flint’s water in Legionnaire’s disease death, in return for help on the lead-related case. But (and experts like Sluggeux please pipe up), my understanding is that sentencing breaks for cooperation are based not merely on the fact of cooperation, but of the cooperation being substantively valuable (like giving important depositions or testimony). Miller was not one of the named main targets, who are Mike Glasgow, Flint’s former laboratory and water quality supervisor and two state official, Mike Prysby and Stephen Busch.

On the one hand, flipping lower level officials to go after the big dogs is a classic prosecution strategy. But on the other (and this may be a gap in the reporting, not in the actual deal-making), the prosecution seems to be going awfully slowly, which is never a good sign for prosecutors and plaintiffs. And more specifically, my impression is that there are usually carve-outs in cooperation deals, whereby if the party ceases being helpful, other charges may be levied. I don’t see any sign that that happened here.

Originally published at Grist

This former official dodged jail time in the Flint water crisis, just has to write an apology letter.

A Michigan district court judge ordered that Corinne Miller, the former director of epidemiology at the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, publicly apologize to the residents of Flint for withholding information about the presence of the Legionella bacteria, the microbe that causes Legionnaires’ disease, in the city’s drinking water.

After pleading no contest to a charge of neglect, Miller also got a year’s probation and 300 hours of community service — essentially a slap on the wrist. She is cooperating with special prosecutors pursuing cases against several former employees of the health department and the state’s Department of Environmental Quality for their role in Flint’s water crisis.

Twelve Flint residents were confirmed to have died in 2014 and 2015 from Legionnaires’ disease, an extreme type of pneumonia. But in January, statistics released by Genesee County, where Flint is located, appeared to confirm public health experts’ suspicions that the city’s water in fact caused additional pneumonia deaths.

Miller’s attorney argued against her having to make a public mea culpa, but Judge Jennifer J. Manley said the demand was “perfectly appropriate in this case.” Considering that even more people were sickened than previously believed, it’s the least she could do.

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  1. dontknowitall

    Like O. J. Simpson, is Corinne Miller now vulnerable to civil lawsuits for damages in the 12 deaths from Legionella pneumonia ? If so, I hope she gets to taken to the poor house over this.

    1. FreeMarketApologist

      Only 300 hours? She should get 3000 hours, to be completed within 3 years. (makes it more or less equivalent to a part time job)

    2. Harry

      Wasn’t she supposedly doing paid community service before? I don’t know how much more community service like this the people of Flint can stand.

  2. RUKidding

    And so another Elite gets away with murder. Maybe Trump can ensure that she gets a hefty tax cut as a reward for her valuable service. Less useless mouths to feed. Well done Ms Miller!
    (just in case: yes, snark)

  3. The Rev Kev

    Hmmmm. Sounds about right this article. Here in Australia it is common to hear of some politician or mid-level government hack getting caught committing theft, fraud, etc. only to have them say that they will pay the money back again so that everything is cool again – and that is what happens! Could you imagine a bank robber making the same defense in a court of law? Yeah, I can’t either. You can’t have faith in institutions when you flaunt the fact that there are two separate systems of law. You kinda half expect it for the super-rich to be realistic (or cynical) but not mid-level managers.

  4. Vatch

    On the one hand, flipping lower level officials to go after the big dogs is a classic prosecution strategy. But on the other (and this may be a gap in the reporting, not in the actual deal-making), the prosecution seems to be going awfully slowly, which is never a good sign for prosecutors and plaintiffs. And more specifically, my impression is that there are usually carve-outs in cooperation deals, whereby if the party ceases being helpful, other charges may be levied. I don’t see any sign that that happened here.

    Very good point! I’m not a lawyer, but my impression is that the sentencing of the lower or middle level defendant shouldn’t occur until after she or he testifies effectively against the higher ups. The article says that she is cooperating in the investigation, but I see nothing that says that she has testified against anyone yet.

  5. DanB

    As a public health official, her conduct is especially odious and -to use a now quaint word- unprofessional. I have a hunch that there’s an as yet untold story of how public health officials and academics -U of Mich. has a large school of public health- actively ignored their duty to protect the public’s health. As we know, all our institutions have been corrupted -and here we see and instance of the fatal consequences.

    It is possible -and I stress possible- that this official was given a wrist slap to induce her to incriminate officials higher up the chain of command. Clearly, she did not act on her own. Regardless, knowing how public health professionals are trained to serve the public, I am certain that she knew she was acting unethically, and even criminally. She should be drummed out of her profession.

    1. RUKidding

      Miller knew exactly what she was doing, and she neither blew the whistle, nor did she quit. I realize it’s hard to get jobs in these times, and I equally realize that whistleblowers get the shaft routinely in our “exceptional” nation. That said, doing what she did indicates that this woman has no morals, ethics, scruples, you name it. If she is NOW incriminating higher ups?? Big deal. She is responsible for murdering citizens. She should be in jail until the end of her days.

      Yet another example of greed run amok.

  6. JTMcPhee

    Anyone remember Michael Milken, one author of a previous FIRE sale event? “Junk bond king” rings a bell? Who “profited” to the tune of XXX billions in personal ill-gotten gains? Speaking of how the “system of laws, not men” actually works? This link is chock full of the tidbits of corruption that are the hallmark of how such matters are handled: “Milken’s Term Cut; Can Be Set Free in Early ’93,” http://articles.latimes.com/1992-08-06/news/mn-5327_1_michael-milken Seems he didn’t even really have to “cooperate,” except to hang a few former competitors out to dry. IBG-YBG, thieves of the same tribe stick together (isn’t that right, Netanyahoo?) And Milken got to keep Xx billion of the billions he snarfed out of gullible and greedy corps, actually funded by the crushing of stuff like pension money and demolition of working businesses and driving down of wages and driving up of prices and shedding of externalities like the scales of a molting dragon… Even “donated” some of that to a search for a cure for a certain type of prostate cancer (which he personally had gotten ill from.)

    One little paragraph in then link notes how many of Milken’s “”clients” were able (unlike student loan and consumer debtors, into the great Corporate Jubilee of bankruptcy. Among the many other bits that would be great headers and ledes for so much other investigative reporting and honest exposition on how it all really works.

    And who and how corrupt was this grand federal judge, who mostly sua sponte reduced Milken’s pittance of jail time, now ensconced in senior status in the Southern District of NY, position intact? Some snippets: http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/1996-05-23/news/9605221156_1_divorce-federal-judge-love-judge And who remembers “Nannygate,” a “problem” for this Bill Clinton nominee for Attorney General?

    When I developed criminal environmental cases for EPA, one target-rich environment was the realm of Waste Management Corp. Their business model relied on corruption and abuse to “grow” by displacing (often equally corrupt and plain violent) local waste collectors and haulers. Rotten actors in a rotten business.

    In one case in Wisconsin, as I recall, “it was alleged” that senior Waste officers bribed local government elected officials to grant Waste the local garbage monopoly franchise, and the evidence was pretty strong.

    The US Attorney chose to give the Waste officers, except for one lower level “designated indicted,” immunity in exchange for testimony against the government officials, because getting a conviction of a relatively poor “public servant” was a bigger scalp than spending huge resources trying to send resisting and well funded and represented corporate officers (who “everybody knows” lie, cheat and steal) to the slammer. The Waste DI got a minimal sentence, as I recall, and returned with plaudits to his former position at Waste. Several competitors were killed off, and rates went way up. (Low balling rates to gain entry into other cities and counties was another Waste tactic — used to be something, what was it, oh, “anti-trust” about that…)

    Oh, as planned by our “betters,” how many of us can really even care that much any more? Learned helplessness and resignation, the slaves under the lash and boot… “They” do this stuff out of reflex and self-interest — “we” the mopes, too many of us, still carry the belief that there’s a “constitution” and an “ordered system of laws and regulations” to protect us…

    1. craazyboy

      I guess you mean our “philanthropist”, Mike Milken?

      I recall reading about how you could go to Milken Institute back in the ’90s and become an aspiring Junk Bond Financier. The “search for yield” just always makes the rubes line up. Kinda running outta assets to strip or pensions to wipe out nowadays, however.


  7. Sluggeaux

    Well, it’s a tough act to follow when a commenter above has already been able to throw-down Waste Management Inc. and Judge Kimba Wood — two paragons of the deep rot of corruption and cronyism in our system of government that reach back over decades. But since Yves throws-down on me, I’ll have to chime in.

    They do things differently in Michigan than I was used to during my career spanning four decades as a California prosecutor, but the most important thing to understand about the Flint prosecutions is that they are highly politicized by the possible involvement of GOP Governor Rick Snyder and by the ambition of GOP Attorney General Bill Schuette, who has been accused of “superficial posturing” by the judge presiding over a federal civil suit in the matter.

    Historically, prosecutions for environmental violations are quasi-civil in nature. They don’t usually involve jail terms for crimes that are Malum in prohibitum rather than Malum in se (smoking pot vs. killing your husband). “We didn’t want to spread panic” or “We thought that another department was supposed to handle this” can be excuses for these violations, and they’re difficult to prosecute because you have to prove knowledge and intent to juries and judges who often don’t understand why they should care.

    We really don’t know what level of cooperation Corrine Miller has already provided, so it’s difficult to comment on whether her lenient sentence was appropriate. Cooperation is usually disclosed in documents provided to the sentencing judge under seal to protect the informant from retaliation. Environmental cases do tend to drag on, and it’s unfair to leave a cooperating witness in a position where she can’t move on with her life. She will be subject to cross-examination along the lines of “you’re just fingering my client because you got community service,” but if her cooperation led to documents that can’t be controverted, that line won’t carry much water.

    1. JTMcPhee

      Can I add that the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and most of the other principal pollution-prevention-or-at-least-reduction laws very clearly had malum prohibitum criminal enforcement tools built into them. Former Congress critters actually thought, some of them, that illegal discharges and emissions, introduction of toxics, lying on the self-reporting that was part of the “trust corps” regulatory schema and stuff like that were behaviors that could be discouraged and even punished by recourse to criminal prosecutions and jail time.

      And of course there are a number of federal general criminal code provisions that were easily applicable to such cases — mail fraud, wire fraud, lying to investigators, even RICO ,where a prosecutor had the cojones to apply them. And even states like Michigan and Illinois and Wisconsin (pre-Kochification) and Indiana and Ohio, had coordinate criminal enforcement tools, they had to in order to get certified as “equivalent” to federal laws in order to be allowed to administer their own environmental laws and programs under the various federal authorities.

      A whole lot of these laws, of course, have been scooted off to the memory hole or just lie about, unenforced. Here’s one bit of what’s left: https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/criminal-provisions-clean-water-act#dischargeofoil

      All cases where corporate officers and corporate liability are involved tend to “drag on,” in my experience, whether “environmental” or contract corruption or the various control fraud and antitrust and all the other regulatory stuff the Feds and state people chimaerically are supposed to be doing to keep things from going completely sideways.

      1. Sluggeaux

        All true and correct. Unfortunately, “prosecutor” and “cojones” are rarely found inside of the same dark blue business suit.

        Elected state attorneys general and county district attorneys generally consider it to be “career suicide” to prosecute the sort of wealthy and politically-connected people who commit major environmental crime. Elected judges suffer from the same timidity, especially when their pensions depend on surviving three or four election cycles.

        However, I think that it’s premature to decide whether Corrine Miller’s sentence was a disproportionate wrist-slap. She may have given-up a “smoking gun” that we won’t see until higher-ups have their hearings — assuming that they don’t cut deals to protect those above them on the pipeline.

        The Romans figured this out centuries ago: “Shit don’t flow uphill.”

        1. Clearpoint

          A couple issues I have with the assumption of “cooperation” in exchange for a lenient sentence. First, because Flint is such a poor and destitute community, in no way would I assume that government is pursuing this case in the best interests of the people. Second, it is absolutely inconceivable to believe that only one individual was involved in a cover-up of this magnitude. Many, many others, including those far up the food chain, had to know and be involved in the decision making in this matter. It is much more plausible that Miller knew that she was the most likely scapegoat, and that consequently, she took precautions to gather incriminating evidence of the involvement of the higher ups to protect herself from being hung out to dry. Third, the real decision-makers in this matter were never going to fix the problem because that would cost a huge amount of money that Flint does not have, and also create a huge publicity problem for the power elite, potentially costing them their positions of power and the individual wealth that that creates. Fourth, the water problem could not be kept hidden forever, and would eventually surface. And when it did, someone would have to pay the price. And everyone involved in this cover-up had to know this. Fifth, Miller’s evidence must have been substantial, and the risk to the higher ups she could implicate substantial. Which leads me to conclude that her “cooperation” in this matter is not to go after and prosecute the higher ups, but just the opposite, to prevent the higher ups from being implicated and prosecuted.

          1. Procopius

            “… because that would cost a huge amount of money that Flint does not have,” should be “… because that would cost a huge amount of money that was diverted from Flint.” I’m torn. Maybe “stolen from” would be better that “diverted from.”

    2. run75441

      Michigan is a Republican led state with a Republican Legislature and a Republican governor. Schuette is a Republican AG who has high hopes of becoming the next Republican Michigan governor. Surprising, the state majority votes Democrat in the national elections (the last one barely slipped through as Repub) as the legislature can not gerrymander an entire state. Census comes in 2020 and who ever controls the legislature will again determine Congressional districts.

      It has been serenely quiet in Michigan since the Flint water crisis. People are back to almost normal with few comments on the lead poisoning of a urban population. A few comments were made on the availability of water. Not much said lately on the removal of lead pipes.

      The courts in Michigan are political. There is no getting around it. Sit in a district court some time and you can listen to the stream of plea bargains occurring as the courts administer their version of justice. The MSC was once declared the worst state supreme court in the nation and still ranks up there as politically polluted as the lead tainted water of Flint.. The list of decisions coming out of it strongly favors business and moneyed interests. It continues with business being heavily subsidized to the tune of $10 billion in tax breaks, etc.; yet, Michigan can not seem to fix its roads or find adequate solutions to water.

      That a state official escapes a state court is not news, it is a natural occurrence in Michigan . . . “Pure Michigan.”

  8. Arizona Slim

    Dear Dead People of Flint:

    I killed you and I’m sorry.

    Yours Truly,


    [Sarcasm off.]

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