(WXYZ) - Prominent businessman Tony Soave was on the witness stand once again Wednesday in the Kilpatrick corruption case, and he stuck to his story – that the former mayor told him he had to hire Bobby Ferguson.
Defense lawyers questioned how the head of the Soave Enterprises – a multi-billion dollar company -- could feel intimated by either Kwame Kilpatrick or Ferguson.
On Wednesday, Soave told the jury in the Kilpatrick Corruption Case that he didn’t want to get on the wrong side of Detroit’s former mayor – which is why he gave him more than $389,000 in private jet flights, paid for an expensive stay for Kilpatrick’s family at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, FL, and took him on shopping trips in New York City.
Kilpatrick, his father Bernard Kilpatrick and his friend Ferguson are on trial, accused of running a criminal enterprise through extortion and racketeering.
Soave says when Kilpatrick first took office in 2002, he met with the mayor because he had been told Kilpatrick was holding up a $50 million dollar sewer-lining contract. Soave said Kilpatrick told him he had the wrong subcontractor on the deal – and when Soave asked who the right one was, Kilpatrick told him: Bobby Ferguson.
“The documents show and the facts show the contract was never held up. That’s already been testified to by a couple of other witnesses,” said Ferguson attorney Mike Rataj. Rataj did get Soave to admit that he had no personal knowledge of Kilpatrick doing anything to delay his contract.
But Soave stood by what he told the jury Wednesday -- that after he brought Ferguson into the water department deal at the mayor’s request, Soave’s employees felt threatened when Ferguson flaunted his friendship with the mayor.
“I don’t think Mr. Soave is intimidated by anybody. And I think he admitted that,” said Rataj.
“He was pretty adamant though, that Kwame Kilpatrick said he needed Bobby Ferguson. What’s your reaction to that? He said that over and over again on the stand today,” asked 7 Action News Investigator Heather Catallo.
“Curiously he couldn’t remember much else other than that, right? And the fact is, it was never posed as a way if you don’t do this, you’re not going to get any work, and we know for a fact they got tons of work,” said Rataj.
“The government’s perspective is that an individual in the former mayor’s position is never going to be so direct and so blunt as to say, unless you pay me ‘x,’ you’re not going to get ‘y.’ But that message can be communicated in more subtle ways and certainly that’s the government’s view that the message was communicated to Tony Soave,” said Channel 7 Legal Analyst Tom Cranmer.
Soave also testified today that even though he thinks it’s important to be friends with the mayor in whatever city you’re doing business with, former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer didn’t ask for private plane rides or fancy hotel stays.
Soave also had the jury and courtroom laughing during his dynamic testimony Thursday.
While defense attorneys tried to portray the CEO as a tough guy who can’t be intimidated by politicians – Soave described himself instead as “loveable.”
And it appeared the jury was loving this government witness.
When Kilpatrick defense lawyer Harold Gurewitz questioned why Soave wasn’t remembering all the details of the meeting he had with the former mayor about Ferguson and the sewer-lining contract – Soave quipped,
“Well I don’t have dementia, if that’s what your saying.”
The entire courtroom erupted with laughter – including the jurors. Earlier this week, defense teams questioned former Cobo Center contractor Karl Kado extensively about his memory, after Kado had confided to FBI agents he thought he had dementia.
When Rataj suggested the head of a multi-billion dollar business empire isn’t easily pushed around by anyone – Soave mostly agreed with him – with the exception of his grandkids… and Mr. Rataj.
“I wouldn’t say that. I don’t think Mr. Soave can get rattled, do you,” said Rataj.
At times the judge had to scold Rataj – as he tried to question Soave about what he knew about the contracting process in Detroit.
“We’re not trying to entertain. We’re trying to get the truth. But Mr. Soave is a colorful individual, and he’s got his way about him, and I got my way about me, and so we had a little fun up there together,” said Rataj.
“No matter what side you’re on, either the prosecution or the defense, when you’re putting up a witness that you want the jury to believe – you want the jury to like that person. Because chances are, if they like the person, it’s more likely they’re actually going to believe their testimony,” said Cranmer.
Defense lawyers will continue cross-examining Soave on Friday.
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