Updated: The United States of America v. Kwame M. Kilpatrick

September 20, 2012, 11:23 PM by  Allan Lengel

Updated: 10:55 a.m.-- Kwame Kilpatrick lined his pockets with bribes and kickbacks and took in at least $540,000 in cash above his paycheck while mayor, federal prosecutor Mark Chutkow said in opening statements in Kilpatrick's public corruption trial. Chutkow suggested there was other cash that the government was not able to document,  and that Kilpatrick as mayor was suddenly living the good life, taking private jets and buying expensive tailored suits.

Chutkow said that Kilpatrick went to the bank over time and paid $280,000 in cash to cover his credit card debt. Chutkow also said that Kilpatrick steered millions of dollars in contracts to his friend Bobby Ferguson, who is a co-defendant in the case. Chutkow suggested that Kilpatrick got a kickback and that the mayor made sure his father Bernard, also got a piece of the action with city contracts. 

“Where did this money come from?” Chutkow asked.  “Not from his payroll check. Not from a rich relative. Or savvy investments.”

He also took shots at Bobby Ferguson, who he said landed $120 million in contracts while Kilpatrick was mayor. 

“You will learn another man rose to power and fortune in lockstep with the new mayor,” the prosecutor said.  “Bobby Ferguson called himself the mayor’s soldier. He called him boss. He was Kwame Kilpatrick’s secret business partner. Kwame Kilpatrick made him rich.”

Chutkow near the end,  flashed on a screen some of the comments the group made in text messages:  "Let’s get us some money." "No deal without me." "It’s my time to get paid." "Can we fuck with this permit." "I’m about to kill this deal."  Kilpatrick is on trial along with his father Bernard, who had a consulting business: close friend Bobby Ferguson, a contractor; and Victor Mercado, the former head of  the city's water and sewerage department.

Kilpatrick's attorney James Thomas countered Chutkow's  opening statement, saying that the government's case wasn't what it seemed, and that the government was relying on faulty witnesses who were looking for a break in their own criminal cases.  

 After a break, court resumed at 10:57 a.m.   Martin Crandall, the attorney for co-defendant Victor Mercado, former chief of the water and sewerage department, started out his opening statement by saying my "Victor Mercado is not guilty." He said Mercado never got a dime, a penny, nor a dollar illegally.   Crandall argued that Mercado was out of the loop or the "circle of trust" when it came to the dealings involving Kilpatrick and Ferguson. He said the indictment was like a nuclear bomb that aimed for others but happened to strike Mercado.

Crandall said his client was offered perks, like plane rides, from companies interested in doing business with the water department.  But he said Mercado always refused the perks on ethical grounds. 

Updated: 12:05 p.m.  John Shea, the attorney for co-defendant Bernard Kilpatrick, father of the ex-mayor, said that the government has "a poisened view of him" and sees corruption behind every bush that involves Bernard Kilpatrick. The government said that Bernard started a  consulting business when his son became mayor and accused Kwame of forcing contractors to use his father for contracts. Shea said there was nothing illegal about Bernard Kilpatrick providing consulting to business and his son's administration and there was no extortion or bribery involved as the government claims. 

Updated: 1:40 p.m. --  Gerald Evelyn, one of three attorneys for Ferguson, began delivering his opening statement,  saying the government has a lot of "quantity. They don't have a lot of quality" evidence. He is the last defense attorney to deliver opening statements for the day. He said the government was going to try and criminalize the friendship between Ferguson and the mayor. And yes, he said, the friendship gave him access to city hall, but "there's nothing illegal about that."

With a fiery delivery, Evelyn said that Ferguson's excavation company landed his largest contracts under Mayor Dennis Archer, who proceeded Kilpatrick. He said Ferguson's company had a great reputation for doing work and was involved in some of the city's biggest projects including Ford Field, MGM Grand, Compuware and Comerica Park.  He said government witnesses were unreliable. 

Evelyn ended his opening statements at 1:55 p.m. Court adjourned for the day and will resume on Monday at 9 a.m. when the first government witness will be called.

By Allan Lengel                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

More than  two years after he was indicted by a federal grand jury and four years after he resigned in disgrace as mayor of Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick steps into the legal ring in federal court today, ready to fight for his freedom.

A conviction could easily put him behind bars for 10 or 15 years or more. A win would give him freedom and a crown of invincibility.

Flanked by his attorneys, Kilpatrick, 42, will go up against the full-force of the U.S. Justice Department and FBI in what is easily the highest profile trial in Detroit in memory. The trial is expected to last about four months.

The prosecution, in opening statements today, vilified him, portraying him as the kingpin of the “Kilpatrick Enterprise,” a criminal organization that used city hall to make lots of money for family and friends by rigging contracts and extorting donations to three non-profits.

Kilpatrick’s attorney portrayed him as a mayor who cared dearly about his job and the people and was wrongly accused by a government that would introduce unreliable.

The feds will come armed with a full arsenal: wiretaps, surveillance video, his text messages and prosecution witnesses, including friends and former appointees.

Kilpatrick, who was chatty and friendly with the press during the grueling jury selection, will be sitting at the table with his co-defendants, his good friend, Bobby Ferguson, a contractor who is central to the corruption case; his father, Bernard Kilpatrick, who allegedly sold access to his son; and Victor Mercado, head of the city’s water and sewerage department, who is charged with helping to rig bids.

Kilpatrick faces 33 counts, including racketeering conspiracy, extortion, bribery, mail wire fraud, filing false tax returns and income tax evasion.

One allegation is that the Kilpatrick Enterprise held up a $50-million sewer lining contract until Ferguson received a piece of the action. In another instance, the feds allege that Kilpatrick killed a 2002 proposal to build a House of Blues Restaurant at Ford Field after a company refused to hire his father as a minority partner.

One prevailing thought is that with all the counts, federal prosecutors have upped their odds of getting a conviction.

But it could come down to presentation. Ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was convicted in his first trial of only one of 24 counts, and that was for lying to an FBI agent. The jury deadlocked on the rest, complaining afterwards that the government's case was too complicated.

In the second trial, prosecutors reduced the number of counts and simplified the case. Jurors then convicted Blagojevich of 17 of 20 counts. He is serving a 14-year prison sentence.

Kilpatrick’s attorneys have tried to wrestle with every angle. They complained several weeks ago about a dearth of blacks in the jury pools in federal court in Detroit. Prospective jurors come from across southeast Michigan.

That argument seemed all but moot when the jury selection was completed on Tuesday. Five of the 12 jurors are black. One is Hispanic. And three of the six alternates are black.

Then on Wednesday, Kilpatrick’s attorney argued for a change of venue, complaining that the pre-trial media stories would prevent him from getting a fair trial.

U.S. District Judge Nancy G. Edmunds, after a brief hearing, rejected the request and noted not only was there a good and fair jury in place, but said despite the negative media coverage, not everyone saw Kilpatrick as a bad guy.

In fact, she noted that he was a “very popular figure with a large segment of the population.”

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