From Uncle Charlie. Need I say more.
Let us return this week to the great state of Michigan, where people are still wondering why their tap water looks like a Vulcan’s blood and what Rick Snyder, their narcoleptic governor, is doing about it. Some of these folks have found a new and innovative way of answering that question. Let’s Google “Snyder RICO” and see what pops, shall we?
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, April 6, in Flint U.S. District Court, alleges Snyder, his former Chief of Staff Dennis Muchmore and others attempted to balance the Flint city budget through a pattern of racketeering activity. “He wants to run the state like a business,” attorney Marc J. Bern said of Snyder. “Well. The citizens of Flint, as shareholders in the corporation of the state of Michigan, I don’t think they were treated in an appropriate way.” The lawsuit alleges that officials misrepresented the suitability of the Flint River water as the city’s drinking water source for roughly two years and billed Flint residents at rates that were the highest in the nation for water that was unusable, resulting in the city’s budget deficit being reversed. Ultimately, the lawsuit claims the actions resulted in a $3.3 million surplus for the city.
That “running the state like a business” shot is a nifty one. I don’t play a good enough lawyer in this shebeen to calculate the odds of this action succeeding, although I do know that the standards of evidence for a RICO suit, especially on the civil side, are fairly complex, and the private businesses named in the suit are going to raise holy hell. Nonetheless, this is a significant ramp-up of the pressure on Snyder and his administration. And there is one cause of action that I find especially lovely.
The suit claims officials committed mail fraud by continuing to mail water bills to Flint residents, which they allege fraudulently misrepresent that the city is providing safe, clean water to its residents. They further allege officials continued to make statements claiming the water was safe despite being aware of growing concerns over the quality of the water. The lawsuit also alleges the defendants committed wire fraud by allowing residents to pay their water bills online or with credit cards despite knowing the water was toxic.
Charging—and, occasionally, overcharging—people for water they knew was bad has always been the spoiled cherry on top of this arsenic sundae. I’m glad someone at least will have to go through discovery on it.