Updated: 7:36 p.m. -- Later in the afternoon, after court was finished for the day, Kwame Kilpatrick posted this on his Twitter page: "While walking down the street a girl (9yrs old) ran over & gave me a big hug. I asked her name. She said "same as yours, VICTORY!" Dig That."
By Allan Lengel
The prosecution lit into Kwame Kilpatrick in opening arguments Friday, and the defense countered with sharp criticism of the charges. By 1:55p.m., the first day of battle was over, opening the way for the government to call its first witnesses on Monday in the biggest case in Detroit history in memory.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Chutkow began the morning by carving up Kilpatrick, claiming as mayor he rigged tens of millions of dollars in contracts for his friend Bobby Ferguson and his father Bernard while lining his own pockets with bribes and kickbacks. He said if Ferguson didn’t get a piece of a contract, Victor Mercado, the head of the water and sewerage department at the time, would hold up or cancel the contract.
Kilpatrick faces 32 counts of public corruption along with co-defendants Ferguson, a close friend and contractor; father Bernard who had a consulting firm; and Mercado.
The prosecution tried painting Kilpatrick as man with plenty of questionable cash. Chutkow said he had at least $540,000 in cash above his paycheck during his mayoral reign, and suggested there was more beyond what the government could document. He noted that Kilpatrick would regularly go to the bank and ended up turning over some $280,000 in cash to pay for credit card debt.
He said Kilpatrick, who had lived a relatively normal life, suddenly began living a life of luxury as mayor, taking private jets and buying more than $60,000 in tailored made suits.
“Where did this money come from?” Chutkow asked. “Not from his payroll check. Not from a rich relative. Or savvy investments.”
Chutkow also laid into Ferguson, who he said landed $120 million in contracts while Kilpatrick was mayor. He said some contractors were forced to pay money to Ferguson to land a city contract. In some cases, he was paid money for doing nothing, Chutkow alleged.
“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.”
As for Bernard Kilpatrick, Chutkow said the 71-year-old dad created a consuting company just days before his son became mayor. He said during his son’s reign, Bernard took in $2.3 million from clients and deposited $680,000 in cash in the bank.
Near the end of his opening statement, Chutkow flashed on on a screen some of the comments from the defendants: "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's attorney James Thomas countered Chutkow's opening remarks, saying that the government's case wasn't what it seemed, and prosecutors were relying on flawed witnesses who were looking for a break in their own criminal cases.
He said prosecutors "are asking you to buy what they are selling. The scam is what the government’s going to perpetrate on you.”
He made denigrating remarks about some government witnesses, describing one as an addicted gambler, another as a greedy insider and yet another as a man suffering form Alzheimers.
Gerald Evelyn, one of three attorneys for Bobby Ferguson, delivered a fiery opening statement, saying the government has a lot of "quantity. They don't have a lot of quality" evidence.
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."
He also said Ferguson's company landed his largest contracts under Mayor Dennis Archer, who proceeded Kilpatrick. He said Ferguson's company had a great reputation for construction-related 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 are unreliable.
Martin Crandall, the attorney for the former water chief Mercado said his client never got a dime, a penny, nor a dollar illegally, and disputed the government's claim that Mercado went along with rigging contracts for the mayor so as to keep his $240,000 job.
Crandall argued that Mercado was out of the loop or the "circle of trust" as far as Kilpatrick, his father and Ferguson were concerned. And he described the indictment as a like a nuclear bomb that was aimed others but happened to strike Mercado. He said began by saying: "Victor Mercado is not guilty."