Known in Detroit mostly for his role in bringing down former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick when he was the director of the FBI’s Detroit office, Andy Arena figures the least he can do as the point man in the Flint water crisis investigation is to provide thorough, detailed answers to the people of Flint for what happened to them and why. Because if something like this had happened to him and his family, it doesn’t take him long to consider how he might react.
“The people of Flint deserve a hell of a lot more than what they’ve gotten so far. And my oath to them is I’m gonna get you the truth. I’m gonna get you the facts, and I’m gonna get you an explanation as to how this happened,” he said during a recent interview. “Maybe some people brought to justice. Maybe we learn from this and we don’t do it again. Maybe just some peace of mind for some people.”
“I grew up in southwest Detroit, on Springwells and Vernor, and I live in Northville. I’ve lived all over the world. All over the country. If I got up this morning, and I turned my faucet on, and the water came out looking like that, what do you think would happen? So you’ve got to ask yourself why would it take two years..? Why do people kinda blow it off, or come up with explanations that don’t make any sense?”
In February, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette appointed both Arena and Royal Oak defense attorney Todd Flood as the team designated to get to the bottom of the Flint water crisis. Arena and Flood have worked together many times before, and are known to have a strong working relationship as well as mutual respect. Nevertheless, there was an immediate outcry from some the minute Schuette made his announcement because not only is Schuette a part of Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration, but his office will be responsible for defending Gov. Snyder, if necessary, from whatever Arena and Flood find out. Furthermore, Flood has given money to Schuette’s campaign, so it’s not surprising that critics are vocally wondering how Flint can possibly get any honest answers from the office of the man tasked with protecting the governor, who has been taking a considerable amount of heat for how he has handled – or mishandled – this entire affair.
Arena says he understands the suspicion, but encouraged the critics to give him and his team a chance to get the job done.
“At the end of the day, just watch us. Judge us by what we do,” he said, adding that he is confident that his investigation will be carried out without any undue political pressure.
“I’m not a politician. I’m not a Republican or a Democrat. The only politicians I’ve dealt with are the ones I’ve put in jail, so they’ll vouch for me,” he said with a laugh.
As for the charge that Flood has contributed to Schuette’s campaign, “I don’t think you can find an attorney out here who hasn’t donated to politicians. That’s just what they do. I talked to Todd, and Todd gave money to Republicans and Democrats. He’s given money to Bill Schuette, he’s given money to Kym Worthy.”
Arena also points out that he has had an unusual amount of experience investigating these sorts of cases throughout his career.
“My wife said to me, I don’t think there’s anybody …that has handled these types of cases as often as you have. I look back at my 24 years with the FBI; I was second in command of that team with the first internal investigation of Whitey Bulger in Boston. In Youngstown Ohio, I was the head of the FBI in Youngstown, which was probably the largest public corruption investigation in the history of the FBI. We had 72 convictions in 3 years of public officials. The 9/11 investigation, I led that investigation for two years. That was the largest criminal investigation in the history of the United States.”
And then, of course, he was in charge of the City Hall corruption investigation in Detroit that led to the charges brought down Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and others in his administration.
“In my mind, when you run investigations like this, you have to do it as quick as possible, but you gotta do it in a manner that is thorough. You can’t go too fast and you can’t go too slow. Right now I think we’re going at the right pace. To have charges come out after two months (Stephen Busch and Michael Prysby, both employees with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality who have been suspended from their jobs without pay, are facing multiple felonies and misdemeanors) that’s pretty quick.”
“I always say the cardinal rule of investigating is let the facts lead you to the truth. The cardinal sin is, I know the truth, let me find the facts. Too many times that’s what people do. Some investigators they fall into that trap.”