EXCLUSIVE: Audio shows Governor Rick Snyder’s ‘fixer’ lied about warnings Snyder and his administration received on ‘toxic’ Flint water, attempted to pay off sick Flint couple, and the mystery of the stolen Flint pipe
AG Dana Nessel hasn’t filed any charges over the Flint water crisis as the statute of limitations for felony misconduct in office charges in relation to the water crisis is in two days
Flint resident Bruce Stiers made a habit of carrying a galvanized steel pipe with sludge and sediment rotting away inside of it. Former Gov. Rick Snyder's right-hand man, Rich Baird, took it and never returned it.
Two days away from what Attorney General Dana Nessel’s criminal prosecutors told Flint residents was the Michigan statute of limitations for new charges to be filed in relation to the Flint water crisis, Metro Times has obtained shocking audio from a February 2017 meeting between Governor Rick Snyder’s right-hand man and top adviser, Rich Baird, and a sick Flint couple. The audio reveals alleged criminal activity by Baird — that Baird claims he told the governor about — as well as potential evidence that Governor Snyder himself had lied about what, and when, he knew about Flint’s deadly water.
As VICE recently reported in a bombshell year-long investigation on the Flint water crisis cover-up that Governor Snyder allegedly presided over, former Flint water criminal prosecutors and investigators led by ex-special prosecutor Todd Flood were building a case against Snyder before their termination by Attorney General Nessel. VICE also reported prosecutors were investigating alleged attempts by Baird to pay off sick, publicly outspoken Flint residents with offers that included state-funded medical treatment, expanded Medicaid, and home infrastructure replacements for pipes and water heaters damaged by Flint River water.
VICE’s report also had several other bombshells: Governor Snyder was allegedly warned about the hazards of the Flint River over a year before the 2014 water switch; Snyder allegedly learned about the deadly Legionella outbreak in Flint 16 months earlier than he testified to Congress; and according to ex-Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, requested that she get the late Rep. Elijah Cummings to “back off” from investigating him over the water crisis. Weaver also alleged Snyder “punished” her by withholding promised water relief funding when she wouldn’t toe-the-administration-line that Flint’s water was safe.
The first known alleged payoff attempt by Baird occurred in February 2017, weeks after Adam Murphy, an ill Flint resident who was suffering from seizures and cognitive impairment after drinking Flint’s toxic water, was removed by police from a January town hall. Murphy’s outburst drew media attention — weeks later, Baird, joined by army colonel Scott Hiipakka, state trooper B.J. Roach, and MDHHS’ Sheryl Thompson, were in Adam and then-wife Christina Murphy's living room. During a nearly two hour meeting, Baird offered the Murphys to find a way for the state to pay for a holistic medical treatment, chelation, that could potentially extract lead from Adam’s body. Adam and Christina allege Baird framed the offer as Adam potentially becoming the state’s “lead poster-child” — if the treatment worked for Adam, it would be made available to Christina (after she finished breastfeeding), their children, and other Flint residents. He called it a “pilot program” and told the Murphys he would go back to the office and talk to his “best friend” — Governor Snyder — about the program.
Metro Times has obtained audio from this meeting — which according to Adam, he gave to Attorney General Dana Nessel’s prosecutors in September 2019 (prosecutors were informed about Baird’s meeting with the Murphys in July 2019).
There are several bombshell revelations Metro Times has gleaned from the audio, but none bigger than:
1) Baird Lied About Governor Snyder and Top Officials Receiving No Major Warning About Flint’s Toxic Water in 2014
Early on in the talk with the Murphys, Baird said:
"I know people see it differently but at the top levels, at the governor's level, and his office, we knew there was a problem with the water but all the answers we were given were 'we got it under control, we just have to treat it this way, or we do this thing or we do that thing and it really wasn't until when Marc Edwards and Dr. Mona [toward the end of 2015], that's when it was clear that the water's not just stinky and discolored — when I drank it, you know, when I was 7-years-old you had you had to let it run for, I don't know if you guys have lived in Flint all your life, but, you know ... back when I was a kid my mom always said you gotta let the water run for a couple minutes because it kinda came out orange — but, then we realized, that clearly, it's [now] toxic. It's not just bad water."
This is a lie. In October 2014, Governor Snyder’s environmental advisor and legal counsel Valerie Brader — who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard, obtained a master’s degree from the prestigious University of Oxford, and graduated magna cum laude for her Juris Doctor from Georgetown University — penned an email on Oct. 14, 2014 warning Snyder’s chief of staff Dennis Muchmore and other top officials about the “urgent” need to fully or partially switch Flint back to Detroit Water and Sewage in light of E. coli and cancer-causing TTHMs, being detected in the Flint River. Muchmore referred Brader to Baird, who VICE reported was known as Governor Snyder’s “fixer,” who had a conference call with Brader and then-Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley.
According to Brader’s public testimony, she reiterated her serious concerns, only to be told that it would cost too much for Flint to switch off of the Flint River back to Detroit and that “health-based violations were likely to be remedied.” As VICE revealed, Baird was asked about that conference call during a secret investigative subpoena interview he was compelled to testify in with special prosecutor Todd Flood (Snyder’s chief of staff Dennis Muchmore and state treasurer Andy Dillon were also brought in for secret investigative subpoena interviews). According to Baird, he wasn’t really involved in the conference call and was “checked out” and “multitasking.” But that was also a lie; VICE revealed that Brader herself was also compelled to testify in a previously unknown investigative subpoena interview with Flood. During the testimony, VICE reported she broke down in tears, alleging Baird made demands during the conference call and threatened her after not to send another email like the one she sent pleading with officials over the “urgent” matter to switch Flint off of the Flint River.
Brader wouldn’t speak with VICE, citing the ongoing criminal investigation, and Baird didn’t respond to comment on Brader’s allegation (or allegations by the Murphys and other Flint residents VICE spoke to). It’s not only Brader’s “urgent” warnings to Baird and other top Snyder administration officials over the Flint River’s toxicity six months after the water switch that show Governor Snyder, Baird, and other top officials were warned that Flint’s water was not, as Baird told the Murphys the administration was told, “under control,” long before Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and Marc Edwards blew the whistle in September 2015.
Three days after Brader’s urgent Oct.14, 2014 plea to switch the city’s water source from the Flint River, state drinking water chief Liane Shekter-Smith called state epidemiologist Susan Bohm. During the call, Bohm wrote via email, Shekter-Smith described a call she just received from Genesee County Health Department about the Legionella water outbreak. According to Bohm, Shekter-Smith attempted to stop the health department from going public with the conclusion that the Flint River switch was the source of the deadly bacterial outbreak — which state epidemiologist Shannon Johnson had hypothesized four days earlier — suggesting that it would “certainly inflame the situation.”
There had been “numerous complaints about the Flint water” and the “Governor’s office had been involved,” Shekter-Smith told Bohm, according to Bohm’s email. In 2019, PBS reported as many as 115 people in Flint died as a result of Legionella in 2014 and 2015 — many after that October 2014 email urging the withholding of warning to Flint and county residents about the Legionella outbreak.
Tellingly, according to VICE’s reporting, during this October 2014 time period of Brader’s “urgent” plea and Shekter-Smith’s attempted thwarting of any public announcement on Legionella, Governor Snyder, his top officials, and the state health department were in active communication (Snyder didn’t respond to VICE’s questions). Brader’s plea on Legionella, and Shekter-Smith’s call on Legionella, were less than three weeks before Snyder was up for reelection. He was reportedly beginning to consider a 2016 presidential run.
“Potential criminality will turn on what he knew and when he knew it,” Joey Jackson, a criminal defense attorney in New York, told Metro Times about Baird, adding that “establishing any crimes requires a mental state (knowledge) and establishing a specific act.”
In the case of Baird, his comments to the Murphys suggest he had the mental state to know the history of the Flint River water being poor-quality, potentially dangerous water.
“It’s clear the water’s not just stinky and discolored,” Baird told the Murphys. “It was discolored when I drank it, you know, when I was 7-years-old you had to let it run for...I don’t know if you guys have lived in Flint all your life, but, you know, back, you know, back when I was a kid my mom always said you gotta let the water run for a couple minutes because it kinda came out orange. But, then we realized that clearly, it’s [now] toxic. It’s not just bad water.”
This knowledge from childhood, coupled with Baird receiving the governor’s environmental lawyer’s warnings and “urgent” plea for Flint to switch off of the Flint River, will prove relevant in terms of any potential criminal charges.
“Did he ‘recklessly endanger’ the public by knowingly misleading them when he knew water was contaminated?” Jackson explained to Metro Times.
Richard Baird did not respond to Metro Times' request for comment on his statements to the Murphys or alleged silencing of Governor Sndyer’s environmental lawyer Valerie Brader when she pleaded in October 2014 on the “urgent” need for Flint to be switched off the Flint River.
2) Baird throws Genesee County Health Department Under the Bus
Baird told the Murphys that to be “frank,” Genesee County Health Department was “laughable” and the state couldn’t trust them to get anything done. The statement is pretty ironic considering it was the Genesee County Health Department that had called the state environmental department drinking water chief sounding the alarm over the Legionella outbreak in October 2014 — only for the MDEQ, MDHHS, and the Snyder administration to bury the news until 16 months later. VICE’s reporting indicates Snyder allegedly was made aware of the Legionella outbreak in October 2014 — 16 months earlier than he testified to Congress.
3) Baird Tried to Make Sweetheart Deals With Several Residents That Threatened the Snyder Administration — But Not the Rest of Flint
While speaking with Adam and Christina, Baird said that he couldn’t make any promises to Adam, but that “if we’re in a position to help you, we should help you.” Repeatedly throughout the conversation, when the Murphys tried to pivot the discussion to helping all of Flint with what the Murphys thought was a promising treatment (chelation therapy to extract lead from the body), Baird quickly pivoted back to Adam.
“I remember thinking I have to get them to agree to help everyone before they leave or I will never get another opportunity,” Christina told Metro Times. “It was so frustrating watching them purposely start up new conversations to avoid my questions. My gut kept saying they won’t listen because they have no intention of helping the city. But I thought if I could get them to admit Flint needed the treatment it would somehow happen.”
Both Christina and Adam allege that Baird did promise to make the chelation treatment available to more Flint residents if Adam’s treatment led to improved symptoms. Fortunately, it did: Adam said his seizures stopped and his cognitive functioning improved dramatically, to the point where he can once again hold his son and hold a conversation without his mind trailing off. But, unfortunately, as the Murphys reported to Baird and the state that the treatment was helping him, they received the “run-around” about making it available to other Flint residents, Christina said.
Baird’s deal-making around Flint, that seemed to make private deals with the most thorny, publicly loud residents — as opposed to a larger Snyder administration program to help all residents — wasn’t limited to the Murphys. Keri Webber, a Flint resident whose daughter contracted Legionella but survived, told Michigan Radio in 2016 that “they said something about, ‘Well, we’re going to work on yours and then see, and I said, ‘No you’re not. No. I don’t receive relief until we all get relief.”
VICE’s story revealed special prosecutor Todd Flood questioned Baird about Webber during their secret investigative subpoena interview, the transcripts of which Metro Times is publishing for the first time with this story. Flood asked Baird if Webber ever received “cash from the state.” Baird answered: “I guess I have to answer that.” Tellingly, the conversation was then moved off the record for three minutes.
VICE’s story revealed who Webber was referring to by “they” — the governor’s right-hand man. “I told Baird to FUCK OFF,” Webber told VICE, saying she accepted nothing from Baird or the state.
Leading Flint activist and resident Melissa Mays also had run-ins with Baird that she told VICE was Baird attempting to pay her off.
Mays alleged that at a May 2018 Flint water meeting in Detroit, a frustrated Baird asked her: “How about I do this: If I come in and replace your interior plumbing, your fixtures, the water heater, and your service line, would that make you happy and would that make you quiet?”
Mays rejected the offer, telling Baird she’d accept if the same deal was made available to all Flint residents, which prompted Baird to turn “beet red,” according to Mays (Baird didn’t respond to VICE or Metro Times’ questions).
“He’s a fixer, he’s an old-fashioned fixer,” a source familiar with the criminal investigation told VICE, adding that his method was “by any means possible: threaten, coerce, whatever, to fix these things for Snyder.”
Baird’s alleged misdeeds are relevant on their own merits, but they also beg the question: was the Governor’s right-hand man freelancing when he attempted these alleged payoffs or did Snyder know what Baird was allegedly up to and approved of it? Snyder and Baird are long-time friends, with a relationship dating back to the 1980s, when Baird recruited Snyder out of law school for Coopers and Lybrand (now PricewaterhouseCoopers). Snyder returned the favor, hiring him out of retirement in 2010 to serve his administration. According to Adam Murphy and his now ex-wife Christina, Baird told them both that he was going to go back to the office and tell the Governor about Adam’s treatment.
“Yea, definitely, he said he was going to go back to the office and run this by him [Snyder],” Christina told investigative news outlet Status Coup, adding that she has spoken to the Attorney General’s office about the meeting with Baird. “The governor knew because he wouldn’t say ‘the governor’s my best friend...I know that he said he was going back to run this by Snyder; I know when he left he said ‘I’m bringing this to Snyder and see if I can get this pilot program going.”
Snyder didn’t respond to the Metro Times’ request for comment.
4) Baird Framed Adam’s State-funded Treatment as a “Pilot Program” — No Evidence the Plane Landed for Anyone Else
Baird told the Murphys the state could take care of the payments for chelation treatment by framing it as a pilot program, saying, “If we were able...you know, one of the things I’ve found, not being a government guy, when you call something a ‘pilot,’ all of a sudden you can get things done that you couldn’t get done before, and, so, my question is, if we say, look, we don’t know the answer, but because we don’t know, we’re willing to go down this path, we ask for a waiver, we call it a pilot, we say find the $5,000 and we get approval for that to happen.”
During the conversation, the Murphys repeatedly expressed concern for the struggles and health of other residents in Flint; Baird later told them if the treatment worked for Adam, it would be made available for other residents.
Baird even asked: “Is there a way to determine, as you start these treatments, are they telling you that there’s a way to determine if it’s working or not?”
We found no evidence anyone else in Flint was offered or received the treatment.
5) Baird Admits He’s “Convinced” Adam’s Water Had Other Toxins Than Lead
For years, the Snyder administration rejected activists like Melissa Mays and others who pleaded for more thorough EPA and state-funded testing to look for more contaminants than just lead and copper, including different forms of bacteria.
“I’m convinced that you guys have other problems here besides lead,” Baird told the Murphys. “One of the reasons I wanted to come sit with you; you got a nice house, I don’t know what I was expecting to see but clearly this is not the kind of the place that I would walk into and say ‘no wonder you got problems, I’ll bet this place hasn’t been properly maintained for years.’ That’s not your home; it’s hard for me, originally I told Sheryl, ‘I wanted to go visit them and see does the environment look like it’s conducive to causing a problem?’”
Baird also said “I don’t have an answer for” why the state wasn’t testing for anything in Flint’s water outside of “microcontaminants and lead and copper.”
6) Baird Told Other Flint Residents He Was Paying for Adam’s Treatment “Out of His Own Pocket” (He Wasn’t)
As VICE reported, Baird was seemingly wheeling and dealing all over Flint, carving out deals with residents he thought posed a threat to Snyder. In a meeting with Flint resident Bruce Stiers, Baird brought up Adam’s treatment, framing himself as a philanthropist.
“He was paying it out of his own personal pocket the expenses for her husband,” said Stiers, a Flint resident who met with Baird in the spring of 2017 — soon after the meeting Baird had with the Murphys. Stiers has 33 years of experience in construction, including building waste water treatment plants, natural gas transmission lines, and tunneling 114 feet deep under the city of Flint.
VICE reported that text messages and emails showed Michigan Department of Health and Human Services was paying for Adam’s chelation treatment for nearly two years. Baird did not respond to Metro Times' request for comment.
7) Baird Tells Adam He Could Be the State’s “Poster Child” for Lead
While promising to find funds for the state to pay for Adam’s treatment, Baird told him: “If we could get your physical situation squared away, you know you can be the poster child for lead abatement.”
Nobody else in Flint saw the poster — as far as Metro Times could find, the Snyder administration never went public on the success of Adam’s treatment or made it available to other residents.
8) Did Rich Baird Steal “Evidence” In the Form of a Resident's Corroded Pipe?
Flint resident Bruce Stiers — who Baird told he was paying for Adam’s treatment out of his own pocket — made a habit of carrying a galvanized steel pipe (see below) from his bathroom around town with sludge and sediment rotting away inside of it (galvanized pipes can release more lead and its iron corrosion feeds bacteria like deadly Legionella).
Stiers brought the pipe to a Flint water town hall in April 2017 and got Baird’s attention. Weeks later, Baird’s secretary called Bruce and facilitated a meeting between the two men in Flint.
Stiers showed up with his pipe; first asking Baird if he’d be willing to pour his iced tea through the pipe and drink through it with a straw because “that’s basically what everyone here in Flint is doing with this.”
Baird soon asked Bruce if he could borrow it.
“Bruce, he said, would you be willing to let me take your posters and this pipe back to my office and show this to the people who are working on this cause I think they would be interested,” Bruce told Metro Times about Baird’s alleged request to him.
Bruce agreed, but said he wanted Baird to make sure the pipe was sent to the lab to test the particles inside and report back to him what was found. But after he gave Baird the pipe, the next several months became an unsuccessful hunt to get the pipe back from Baird.
But Bruce told Metro Times that Baird stole the “evidence” from him; he called Baird’s assistant repeatedly and was told “‘yeah, I’m looking at it at his desk right now, it’s sitting right there on his desk.’That was weeks and weeks afterwards [the meeting with Baird]; it just fell on deaf ears to try and get any of it back.”
Stiers, like others who’ve previously gone public on Baird, told Metro Times that his impression was that speaking with Baird was the equivalent of getting an audience with Governor Snyder. He did not respond to a request to comment about the stolen pipe. Snyder also did not respond.
“I’ve been told by several colleagues and friends of mine that if you were talking to him [Baird] you were talking to Snyder; there was nobody closer or higher up the ladder or chain than Richard Baird. He shared with me [that they had] a long-term established friendship and business friendship.”
Metro Times did not immediately hear back from Attorney General Nessel’s office regarding the revelations from Baird and the Murphys’ meeting — or whether the Attorney General plans on charging Baird, or anyone else, before the statute of limitations for felony misconduct in office charges related to the Flint water crisis in two days. After former special prosecutor Todd Flood charged 15 state officials with various felonies and misdemeanors — resulting in two judges binding MDHHS director Nick Lyon and Michigan’s chief medical executive Eden Wells over to face jury trials for involuntary manslaughter over failing to warn Flint residents early enough about the Legionella outbreak — Nessel fired chief investigator Andy Arena, special prosecutor Flood, and dropped charges against the remaining eight defendants (including Lyon and Wells). At the time of the dropped charges, Nessel and her prosecutors accused Flood of having led a deficient investigation and having “grave concerns” over his team’s “investigative approach and legal theories.”
Ten months after dropping the charges, the Attorney General and her Flint water criminal investigation team led by Solicitor General Fadwa Hammoud have not filed any charges against state or city of Flint officials. Last week, Hammoud and Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy responded to VICE’s bombshell Flint water cover-up with a statement claiming the criminal investigation is on track and we are delivering on our commitment to the people of Flint.” They also suggested there was a “misconception” that April 25th is the statute of limitations for new charges to be filed related to the Flint water crisis.
“Criminal statutes of limitations vary depending on the offense and the date of the alleged criminal act,” the prosecutors said. The statement is a bit of a reversal from their discussion with Flint residents at a June 2019 meeting; then, they told residents concerned over AG Nessel dropping charges against the remaining eight state and city defendants that they had nine months to bring new charges — citing the statute of limitations (Michigan’s statute of limitations for misconduct in office, a felony, is six years; April 25th, 2020 marks six years since the original switch to the Flint River on April 25th, 2014).
State senator Jim Ananich and state representative John Cherry proposed legislation to extend the statute of limitations for misconduct in office from six years to ten years. AG Nessel has expressed support for the legislation. On Friday, Nessel issued a statement saying the investigation “has not — and will not be — impeded by time or this current public health crisis,” crediting Hammoud and Worthy’s “commitment to the people of Flint” being “as strong today as it was the day they up this important cause.”
AG Nessel’s office did not respond to Metro Times’ request for comment on Richard Baird’s alleged payoffs in Flint, on whether they have had the audio of his meeting with the Murphys since September, and whether they plan on filing any criminal charges ahead of the statute of limitations for felony misconduct in office ahead of Saturday’s deadline.
As the COVID-19 pandemic ravages America, Flint has been hit particularly hard. Genesee County, of which Flint makes up 24% of the population, has a 10% fatality rate from COVID-19. Flint’s cases make up over 40% of the overall Genesee County cases; when Flint Township is added in — which partially received toxic water from the Flint River — Flint and Flint Township make up over 50% of Genesee County’s COVID cases.
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