After 4 1/2 months and about 80 witnesses, the prosecution in the Kwame Kilpatrick federal trial rested Thursday morning, opening the door for the defense to begin calling witnesses in what’s expected to take less than two weeks.
But things didn’t go so great for the defense on its first day on the offense.
Jim Thomas, Kilpatrick’s attorney, called to the stand forensic accountant Gary Leeman, an expert in non-profits, who appeared to be more of a help to the prosecution than the defense.
During cross examination, Leeman laughed when prosecutor Mike Bullotta asked if yoga lessons for Kilpatrick would have been a legit expense from the Kilpatrick Civic Fund, a non-profit fund created to help the community.
“I would highly doubt that that would be proper,” he said laughing a bit. “Not even close.”
It was obviously something Thomas would have preferred not to hear from his own witness.
Bullotta also asked if it was a legit expense to use Kilpatrick Civic Fund money to help pay for a lease for a Cadillac Seville and to send Kilpatrick’s wife and kids to an indoor water park.
Leeman said those would have been unusual expenditures for a non-profit, but there could be an explanation.
Leeman, who rambled on at times, also told the prosecutor that Kilpatrick would have owed taxes if he received bribes or kickbacks, but not if cash came from gifts or loans.
As part of its tax evasion charges, the government has alleged that Kilpatrick paid no taxes on bribes and kickbacks, and had no legit explanation for more than $500,000 in cash he deposited in the bank between 2002 and 2008 when he was mayor. The government has also alleged that Kilpatrick’s expenditures far exceeded his pay as mayor.
Collectively, several witnesses who were close to Kilpatrick, testified in the past several weeks that they gave him hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.
The government also alleges that Kilpatrick illegally spent money from the Kilpatrick Civic Fund, in violation of IRS regulations, on personal items like yoga lessons, vacations and campaign-related matters.
During questioning from defense attorney Thomas, Leeman agreed with Thomas that the government should have investigated how much cash Kilpatrick had on hand before taking office in 2002 to get a true picture of his finances. Leeman suggested it would be hard to draw conclusions about cash reserves without a complete picture.
Thomas has claimed throughout trial that Kilpatrick had plenty cash on hand before becoming mayor, which he says might explain in part why his expenditures exceeded his income.
Thomas has also suggested in trial that Kilpatrick received non-taxable cash gifts while mayor, some of which came from a big bash for his 36th birthday at the Atheneum Hotel in Greektown in 2006, in which about 1,500 people attended.
But again, under cross examination, Leeman's expertise about Kilpatrick seemed to slip. He conceded that he had not reviewed testimony of people who said they gave kickbacks and bribes, and that he had never conducted a criminal investigation as a forensic accountant.
Bullotta also scored points with this exchange.
“Have you examined Kwame Kilpatrick’s personal bank records?” Bullotta asked.
“No,” Leeman said.
“Have you examined bank records of the Kilpatrick Civic Fund?” Bullotta asked.
“No,” Leeman said.
Trial resumes on Friday.
Former City Councilwoman Sharon McPhail, who once called Kwame Kilpatrick a thug, could testify Friday or Monday on behalf of Kilpatrick.