Flint Water Investigator May Have Lied About Out-Of-State Trips

Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton, who in 2016 began investigating the Flint water crisis, claimed he used campaign funds for a series of out-of-state trips last year for meetings that don’t seem to have existed, TYT Politics has learned while combing through campaign finance records.

First elected as Genesee County Prosecutor in 2004, Leyton was given a $45,000 raise in 2015 to simultaneously serve as Corporation Counsel for the county. In this additional role, Leyton receives and handles complaints about public officials’ campaign finance reports.

But the new questions about his own campaign finance filings are raising concerns about the inherent conflict of interest his dual roles create. In 2016, Leyton filed reports stating he used campaign funds for at least five out-of-state trips between January and June designated as “NDAA-travel.”

Leyton is a board member of the National District Attorneys Association, and told TYT Politics:

“In that capacity, I represent all 83 Michigan prosecuting attorneys. NDAA meets in various locales and I am expected to attend the Board of Directors meetings as well as committee meetings and sub-committee meetings. This requires travel.”

On his campaign finance report, Leyton files that he traveled to:

  • Chicago, Illinois (two separate charges totaling $1,500)
  • Washington, D.C. (three separate charges totaling $3,000)
  • Tucson, Arizona (two separate charges totaling $6,000; $4,000 paid on a Capital One card and $2,000 paid back to himself on the same date)
  • Ft. Lauderdale, Florida (two separate charges totaling $5,000; $1,000 on a Capital One Card and $4,000 paid to David Leyton)
  • Boston, Massachusetts (three separate charges totaling $4,500; $1,000 on a Capital One card and $3,500 paid to David Leyton).

It’s not clear from the filings whether he was reporting multiple trips to any of the cities or merely filed multiple expenses for single trips.

But, according to NDAA’s website, there were no board meetings or subcommittee meetings held in Chicago, Washington, D.C., or Ft. Lauderdale during the six-month period Leyton claims to have traveled there. The website does list Boston and Tucson as locations where NDAA had meetings, matching Leyton’s expenditure records.

NDAA Executive Director Kay Chopard told TYT Politics several meetings Leyton claimed travel for did not happen.

“Several of the dates you list are not NDAA meeting dates or places so I don’t know what those might be,” she said via email.

In response to TYT Politics’ original request for comment, Leyton explained the travel expenses: “Many of the destinations are cities where lodging and meals can add up.” He said that Michigan’s campaign finance laws allowed such travel expenditures and “no taxpayer funds are used.”

Leyton can indeed use campaign donations for job-related incidental expenses, according to Eric Doster, an attorney and author of “Michigan Campaign Finance.”

Fraudulent campaign expenses or reporting, however, could run afoul of both campaign finance laws and the IRS.

“If he went on some type of vacation, that is not an incidental expense,” Doster said, “and he has problems under the internal revenue code because it’s probably a personal expense to him and also the campaign finance act.”

However, Doster added, “If I were Mr. Leyton, I’d be more concerned about the Internal Revenue code, because at that point, then it becomes personal income — it wouldn’t be a normal necessary business expense under Section 162 of the Internal Revenue Code.”

Other questions arise from expenditures Leyton made that seem to pay himself back for purchases of a cell phone and iPad. For example, one expenditure charged on 3/15/16 for $4,000 is labeled “NDAA travel-Tucson” with “cellular phone” and “Ipad” tacked on. Another expenditure from 4/29/16 for $4,000 labeled “NDAA travel-Ft. Lauderdale” has “laptop purchase” tacked on — and paid directly to Leyton. The forms do not indicate whether the electronics were purchased for the campaign, NDAA purposes or other reasons.

Leyton has not responded to my multiple follow-up requests on why his campaign finance records don’t match the dates and locations NDAA says it held its events.

He’s also not responded regarding why he paid himself back $12,000 for NDAA expenses — which totaled $20,500. Nor did he explain how all his lodging and travel expenses happened to total precisely to whole numbers: $1,500, $2,000, $4,500, $5,000, and $6,000.

In addition, Leyton has not provided receipts either to TYT Politics or to Genesee County Clerk John Gleason, who filed a lawsuit against Genesee County in September, 2013, in order to get an audit of the clerk’s office, which he believed had mismanaged funds before he entered it in 2012.

As corporation counsel, Leyton is the attorney for the county; the two sides reached an agreement in March, 2015, for an audit, but according to Gleason, Leyton and the county didn’t hold up their end of the agreement, conducting no audit or bookkeeping. Gleason refiled the suit in 2016.

In an interview with TYT Politics, Gleason raised concerns on multiple fronts: “When you have the prosecuting attorney serve as Corporation Counsel, I think it’s wholly unethical,” he said, stressing that the Corporation Counsel is normally a separate body or individual, rather than serving also as the main county prosecutor.

“The prosecuting attorney should be held to the same level as every single county employee, every single elected and appointed official for this county,” Gleason said. “But when you have a political office who’s controlling who’s being scrutinized, you have really prostituted an independent review of what’s going on in the county.”

Gleason stressed the conflict of interest that arises due to Leyton’s dual roles. Normally, Gleason said, he would bring concerns of an illegal or unethical act to the Corporation Counsel, who is now Leyton.

“When I find something illegal and I take it to the prosecutor/corporation counsel, I’ve given up my access to justice. Because as soon as I point out the wrongdoing, our prosecutor says, ‘I’m sorry I’m on the [Genesee County] Board of Commissioners’ side — the one who’s been misspending the money.”

Gleason’s suggestion that Leyton automatically sides with the nine-member Board of Commissioners stems from the fact that it was the Commissioners who voted to give Leyton his $45,000 raise as part of his promotion to Corporation Counsel.

Gleason added: “I want my prosecutor/corporation counsel to say, ‘I’m not on the side of the clerk, and I’m certainly not on the side of the Board of Commissioners, I’m on the side of the law.’” He claimed that Leyton is using his political office to mitigate “serious offenses” perpetrated by public officials he’s connected to.

“When he accepted the $45,000 raise, he became a hired gun for the Board of Commissioners, not for the taxpayers, not for the multi agencies and departments a Corporation Counsel would normally represent,” he concluded.

Gleason has sent Leyton notices of errors and omissions related to his campaign finance forms, asking Leyton to correct them with more specifics. In response, Leyton just recategorized the expenses as travel without offering specifics, according to Gleason.

But Leyton’s troublesome campaign finance entries didn’t start last year: in 2010, while he was also running for Michigan Attorney General, Leyton’s county campaign committee paid him back several times under the designation of “Repayment of Loan,” totaling nearly $11,000 — without specifying what the loans were for.

The listings for debts and obligations include a $952 expenditure paid to himself, but no corresponding amount in the contributions section indicating that he gave the campaign $952 in either cash or campaign-related purchases.

There’s also tens of thousands of dollars in loans paid back to himself from 2004–2008, according to his 2010 campaign finance filings. Unfortunately, TYT Politics is unable to verify his 2004–2008 loans due to the fact that Genesee County’s online campaign finance database only goes back to 2009.

Leyton has a history of campaign finance infractions: for his 2010 Attorney General run, he was slapped with $8,500 in late filing fees, which he paid in 2015, after unsuccessfully trying to get a waiver from the State of Michigan.

In addition to the doubt that’s been raised about Leyton’s out-of-state trips, his investigation of the ongoing Flint water crisis could also come in for scrutiny now that his finances and compliance with campaign law are in question.

Leyton hasn’t prosecuted any individuals related to the lead-poisoning; in contrast, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has brought charges against 13 individuals, including two former Emergency Managers for Flint, Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose.

Leyton himself played an indirect role in the water crisis: as County Prosecutor he had to approve all contracts for the Karegnondi Water Authority — the controversial water pipeline which played a key role in the catastrophic 2014 switch from the Detroit water system to the Flint River, which led to widespread lead contamination across Flint.

The Flint River was supposed to be a temporary water source while the KWA was being built. Jeff Wright, who is controversially both the Genesee County Drain Commissioner and the CEO of the KWA, has direct ties to Leyton: the two have fundraised together in the past and Leyton had to recuse himself from a previous investigation into Wright, citing their personal relationship.

In my seven reporting trips in Flint, dozens of residents have pointed to Wright as the unsung villain in the water switch based on his two decades pushing for the privatized pipeline. Residents feel Wright was pivotal in convincing state and city officials that switching from Detroit’s water system to the KWA would ultimately save the city of Flint money. But emails tell a different story: Detroit offered to cut its price to Flint in half in 2013, driving it down to a point where it would be 20 percent cheaper than the KWA.

State and city officials switched to the Flint River as a stopgap before the KWA was even ready. Residents feel the push for the KWA was not about saving money, but instead, about opening up a privatized pipeline in which fracking could occur throughout its path.

As I’ve previously reported, some of Governor Snyder’s top donors have strong ties to the fracking industry, and he himself has pushed for fracking throughout Michigan.

Overall, there’s a cloud of corruption that’s permeated Flint long before the water crisis, with a pattern of public officials — such as Wright and Leyton — holding dual positions that seem to present conflicts of interests.

And officials like Leyton — who are the public’s main recourse to investigate and deliver justice related to their own poisoning — have their own unanswered ethical questions that cast doubt on whether they can be trusted to perform a thorough and above-board investigation into the water crisis.

These questions come at a time many Flint residents feel more hopeless than ever. Three years after the disastrous water switch, residents are still unable to drink their tap water — and most don’t trust the state’s declaration it’s safe to do so with a filter. Dozens of residents I’ve spoken to are still dealing with ongoing health issues while having to battle to get their lead-related illnesses covered by Medicare and Medicaid. And activist residents in the county are dumbfounded at the slow pace of recovery as fewer than 1,000 lead pipes have been replaced, with tens of thousands to go.

Adding insult to injury, residents recently began receiving water shutoff notices and tax liens on their homes for unpaid water bills. Flint City Council recently voted 8–1 to place a moratorium on those liens, but that decision has yet to be ratified by the Receivership Transition Advisory Board; a board of unelected businessmen appointed by Governor Rick Snyder with the power to veto the Mayor and City Council.

TYT Politics will continue to extend Mr. Leyton a chance to respond to the myriad questions and discrepancies found in his campaign finance reports, as well as the investigation into Flint’s water crisis.