Kwame Kilpatrick fidgeted in his chair, sometimes leaning to the left, sometimes smirking, looking worried and shaking his head in disbelief, as he watched ex-close friend Derrick Miller deliver some damaging testimony on the 49th day of trial Monday.
Miller, who was part of Kilpatrick’s inner circle at city hall, and who was billed as the prosecution’s star witness, testified in Detroit federal court that he regularly took cash kickbacks from a real estate firm that did business with the city and shared half with Kilpatrick. He did not specify how much he shared.
In his three hours of testimony, Miller painted Kilpatrick as someone who lied to the public, pocketed bribes, steered money to friends and family, and was so paraonoid of the feds that he had his office swept for bugs.
Specifically, Miller said Kilpatrick publicly claimed he properly used funds from the nonprofit Kilpatrick Civic Fund while he appeared to have violated the law by using the money for his campaign and personal expenses, including lavish resort vacations, golf clubs and yoga classes.
The long-awaited testimony seemed to help prosecutors connect the dots and corroborate testimony, but may have fallen a little short of the drama some had anticipated. But there is more to come Tuesday, as the prosecution indicated it planned to question Miller for about two more hours.
Miller first met Kilpatrick in Mrs. Cunningham’s ninth-grade English class at Cass Tech High School. They became friends. He later helped Kilpatrick get elected and worked in Kilpatrick’s inner circle at city hall as the chief administrative officer and later as the chief information officer.
Unlike Kilpatrick, Miller chose not to roll the dice and instead pleaded guilty to public corruption and income tax evasion, and agreed to testify in exchange for a break on his upcoming sentence. Miller had a falling out with Kilpatrick and left the mayor's office in 2007.
On Monday, what appeared to be new information to the public, and perhaps most damaging, was the kickbacks he claims to have given Kilpatrick from the real estate firm of Jones Long LaSalle.
Miller, dressed in dark suit, powder blue shirt and tie, appeared composed as he said he received payoffs from commissions from the real estate firm “multiple, multiple times.” He then clarified more than 10 times. The indictment alleged that he took $115,000 in bribes from the real estate firm.
During testimony, he said when he gave Kilpatrick half of his kickbacks from the real estate company, Kilpatrick might sometimes just say “cool.” But he did not specify exactly how much he shared.
Miller also testified that he took two $10,000 kickbacks from Karl Kado, who had the electrical and cleaning contracts at Cobo Center. And he said Kilpatrick sent him to Kado on one or two occasions to pick up cash kickbacks for the mayor.
But Miller was rather vague about the kickbacks from Kado to Kilpatrick. For instance, he said he didn’t know how much cash he delivered or in what type of packaging.
That left the door open for what’s sure to come: The defense hammering away at him, questioning how someone who was delivering a bribe to a big city mayor wouldn’t recall more specifics. The defense likely will begin cross examination sometime tomorrow.
Miller’s testimony also shed light on the inner workings of the administration and how it reacted to controversy.
For instance, when WXYZ’s Steve Wilson reported that the Kilpatrick Civic Fund spent $$8,605 on a spa for his family, Miller said he huddled with Kilpatrick and other confidantes including advisor Bob Berg and chief of staff Christine Beatty to figure out how to respond.
"We had to come up with some kind of response, story," Miller said.
They finally decided to say that it was a trip to raise funds for the Kilpatrick Civic Fund even though there was no evidence that was true, Miller testified.
Miller testified that he signed blank checks for the Kilpatrick Civic fund and had no idea who the checks would be issued to.
At one point, the prosecution played a tape of of the Channel 7 video from the 2001 debate between Kilpatrick and his opponent Gil Hill.
Kilpatrick denied improperly using money from the Kilpatrick Civic Fund during the debate.
"We haven't used one penny, one penny of the Civic Fund for this campaign because it's not allowed by law," Kilpatrick said.
"Was that a true statement?," Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Chutkow asked Miller.
"No," he said.
Miller also testified that Kilpatrick swept the 11th floor of city hall for bugs. And he said when he met with Kilpatrick at the Manoogian Mansion and talked about contracts with friend Bobby Ferguson, Kilpatrick turned up the radio to make it difficult for anyone to record the conversation.
Betrayal: Kwame's High School Pal Becomes Star Prosecution Witness (Oct. 29)