Mayor of Flint, Michigan did not violate ethics amid water crisis: attorney

(Reuters) - The mayor of Flint, Michigan, did not redirect donations to her personal campaign from a charity meant to help families hurt by a water crisis in the city, an independent attorney said on Monday.

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There was no evidence of any ethical violations by Mayor Karen Weaver, said Brendon Basiga, a criminal defense attorney hired by Flint to investigate charges made in a federal lawsuit by a former administrator.

“Simply put, ladies and gentlemen, I cannot find any evidence of unethical conduct by Mayor Karen Weaver,” Basiga said at a press conference.

“I am so glad the independent investigation is complete and clears me and my staff of any wrongdoing regarding donations sent to the city of Flint,” Weaver said in an emailed statement.

Flint was under the control of a state-appointed emergency manager in 2014 when it switched its water source to the Flint River from Detroit’s municipal system to save money, exposing residents to dangerous levels of lead.

The river water was more corrosive than that of the Detroit system and caused more lead to leach from aging pipes. Children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable to the toxic effects of lead. The city of about 100,000 residents switched its water source back to Detroit’s municipal system in October.

In May, former Flint administrator Natasha Henderson said in a lawsuit that she was wrongfully terminated in violation of whistle-blower and free-speech protections.

Henderson’s attorney, Katherine Smith Kennedy, said she has not had the chance to review the report, but is not surprised the investigation cleared Weaver.

“As we have said before, Ms. Henderson is looking forward to sharing the evidence that supports her story and to having her day in court,” she said in an emailed statement.

Basiga said the allegations of unethical conduct were denied by city employees he interviewed and Weaver told him she did not know what happened to the donations.

Bank statements for the Friends of Karen Weaver Fund and the Karen For Flint Fund showed no indication of questionable deposits, Basiga added.

Henderson’s lawsuit alleged that Weaver ordered her assistant and a volunteer to redirect donors from a local fund that was set up to help families affected by the water crisis to her political action committee instead. But Basiga said he found no evidence that donation checks were rerouted from the charity.

Weaver had previously declined to discuss the lawsuit, saying she was focused on the city’s recovery from the crisis.

Reporting by Justin Madden in Chicago, editing by G Crosse