Prosecution and Defense Both Agree: Kwame Liked Getting Cash

February 01, 2013, 1:49 PM by  Allan Lengel

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One thing the defense and prosecution in the Kwame Kilpatrick public corruption trial can agree on: Kilpatrick likes cash.

Where they differ is where it came from.

The prosecution says plenty came from illegal bribes and kickbacks while Kilpatrick was mayor from 2002 to 2008. The defense insists Kilpatrick got cash from generous birthday and wedding gifts, some during and some before he was mayor. None, the defense claims, came from illegal activity. 

To help prove that point, Kilpatrick’s attorney Jim Thomas, on Friday, on  the second day of presenting his defense, showed jurors Kilpatrick’s wedding invitation in 1995 which said “Cash gifts preferred.”

By day's end, even if the cash was all gotten legitimately, Kilpatrick came off as looking greedy.

In fact, one defense witness, Kizzi Montgomery, a former Kilpatrick aide who now works for Mayor Dave Bing, said she felt obligated, like other people in the administration, to give cash donations for Kilpatrick on Christmas and his birthday. She said she eventually gave $100 each time, but department directors were encouraged to give $500, and cabinet level officials, $1,000. She said some employees complained.

"They were expected," Montgomery said of the gifts.

Regardless, that testimony may have done little more than make Kilpatrick look greedy. It didn't really seem to help the defense because those cash gifts from his employees did not go directly to Kilpatrick and his bank account, but rather went for his gifts like a Rolex watch or a golfing trip.

The government has argued that Kilpatrick had no legit explanation for more than $500,000 in cash he deposited in the bank while mayor -- other than bribes and kickbacks. They also say he spent $841,000 more than than he earned as Detroit's top politico.

But Thomas has insisted Kilpatrick’s unexplained cash reserves came from gifts from the generosity of friends and supporters. Those gifts would not be taxed.

Interestingly, in the past two days, while calling witnesses to the stand to talk about the parties and gifts, Thomas never mentioned specific amounts that were collected from Kilpatrick’s events . One witness, William Wakefield Tandy, who received funds from the Kilpatrick Civic Fund for a youth football team, the Westside Cubs, he was involved with, testified that he gave a $100 gift for Kilpatrick’s 36th birthday.

Still, jurors were given no idea -- not even a guesstimate -- as to how much Kilpatrick took in from his various parties.  

Essentially, Thomas was asking the jurors to use their imagination -- and think big.

Think, he essentially was trying to say, about all the possible gifts from the roughly 1,500 people who attended Kilpatrick’s 36th birthday at the Atheneum Hotel in Greektown in 2006, and the hundreds of folks who attended the wedding reception at the Wayne County Building Atrium downtown in 1995 and the hundreds who went to his 30th birthday bash in 2000 at the Majestic Theatre on Woodward Avenue, which had a “wishing well” or receptacle for people to drop off cash gifts.

The question is: Will the jurors buy into Thomas' suggestion of big cash gifts,  or will they believe the testimony of government’s witnesses who alleged, collectively, that they gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in  kickbacks and bribes.

Trial resumes Monday.

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