DETROIT (WXYZ) - Victor Mercado is the least known of the four defendants, and maybe the most interesting from a legal perspective.
The Federal government claims the former Water and Sewer Department Director was knee-deep in the pay-to-play scheme, fleecing taxpayers by helping to rig bids on multi-million-dollar water and sewer contracts. Some of those contracts went to Kilpatrick's pal, Bobby Ferguson.
But here's the rub: the feds don't have any evidence that Mercado ever got a dime in kickbacks. The feds say his motivation was to hang on to his salary, which, at its peak, was $240,000.
But under the powerful federal racketeering statute known as RICO, it doesn't matter whether Mercado profited. All prosecutors need to show is that he was a willing participant in the alleged conspiracy, even if he didn't get any kickbacks.
On the other hand, defense attorneys could paint Mercado as an innocent pawn who was just following his boss' orders hoping jurors will have sympathy for him. In a text message, Bernard Kilpatrick referred to Mercado as the "new Hispanic" which could suggest he was not part of the inner circle.
All of the big players in the public corruption case, Kilpatrick, his dad, and Bobby Ferguson were the targets of numerous investigative reporter’s news stories long before they were indicted.
Mercado was also on the media's radar screen too, but not as much as the others.
Jim Schaefer, one of the Detroit Free Press reporters who broke the Kilpatrick text message scandal, told 7 Action News he wasn’t that surprised when Mercado’s name landed in the federal indictments.
"Victor was always an interesting man to us as well because he pretty much packed up his bags and left overnight during the middle of all these investigations and we always wondered why. I think we're about to find out why," said Schaefer.
In court filings, Mercado's defense lawyers paint him as an unwitting victim. They tried unsuccessfully to have him tried separately claiming his alleged role was so minor compared to the others that he would be unfairly tainted before the jury.
So how strong is the government's case on Victor Mercado?
7 Action News legal analyst Tom Cranmer says it’s really difficult to say at this point.
"Until people actually testify, you see the witnesses, you gage their credibility, you see the exhibits that are admitted, it’s very tough to indicate or to guess what kind of strength or lack of strength the government might have,” Cranmer said.
Mercado has suggested, through his lawyers, that he has information on Kwame Kilpatrick that even federal investigators don’t have and he’s hinted that he might drop some of it during the trial.
Kilpatrick and Ferguson could be worried about what Mercado might say. Both filed motions agreeing that Mercado should have a separate trial.
Mercado's attorneys declined comment for this report.
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