DETROIT (WXYZ) - BLOG: 7 Action News Investigator Ross Jones blogged live from federal court Thursday during the Kilpatrick corruption trial, where a key government witness testified. Recap here:
1:01--"You lied:" Thomas says Bell initially lied to a federal agent when she met with him, saying she only shared checks larger than $25,000 with Kilpatrick. Days later, she said it was less than that.
"You lied to a federal agent," Thomas said. Bell agreed.
Bell said she changed her story once she talked to her lawyer, who said he wouldn't represent her if she wasn't honest. She said lied about the size of the checks initially because she didn't want Kilpatrick to appear greedy or petty.
She has broken down in tears several times during this testimony.
1:00--How was it possible: Thomas is asking Bell how it was possible that she got through Kilpatrick's executive protection unit (officers assigned to protect Kilpatrick) in order to deliver these alleged kickbacks. Bell said she seldom had to go past them, usually just placing a call to Kilpatrick's assistant.
12:58--She kept it: On one occasion when Bell says she brought Kilpatrick money, the mayor said she could keep it because it was her birthday, she testified.
12:52--Plea agreement: Thomas is winding up his cross-examination by harping on Bell's plea deal, which offers her a drastically reduced prison sentence in exchange for her testimony against Kilpatrick. He said the government could recommend an even lighter sentence, like probation.
"That's my hope," she said.
"You've got to please (the government) in order to get what you want, is that a fair statement?" Thomas asked.
"I think that's a very unfair statement," she said, saying that lying under oath would get her in far greater trouble.
"There's only two other people in this room, other than God, that know what happened, and that's Mr. Kilpatrick and myself," she said emphatically.
Bell then appeared to wipe tears from her eyes.
12:47--Happy birthday: Thomas reminded Bell that in 2006, Kilpatrick held a two-story birthday bash where he was given many cash gifts. The first person to say he would contribute was the late Don Barden, Thomas said. He asked Bell if she remembered that.
“He said a lot of things he wouldn’t do," Bell said, speaking of Barden.
“You know you’re talking about a dead guy," Thomas responded.
“I’m sorry, but he was good at making promises," Bell said.
Perhaps Thomas wants the jury to think that Bell, like Barden, was just given Kilpatrick cash gifts, not kickbacks.
12:38--Money worries: "Would you be more likely to bet more or stay at the casino longer...when you have money in your can under your bed?" Thomas said.
Bell acknowledged that she worried about money, but said it didn't matter how much was under her bed. Thomas continues to point out that Bell lost tens of thousands of dollars a year at Greektown Casino.
12:30--"You were gambling:" Thomas continues to harp on Bell's habit of gambling at Greektown Casino. He's pointing out that she gambled more than $170,000 in one year. Bell is getting testy, sometimes evading Thomas's questions, sometimes saying he's being misleading.
12:25--Money out of your bra? Thomas asked Bell if she really did pull money out of her bra in front of the mayor, suggesting it would be an uncomfortable task to pull off.
"I would take money out of my bra in front of my son," Bell said.
She said she did not pull her blouse up to retrieve the cash. She simply reached into her shirt and took the money out.
12:10--Short break: Court should resume shortly.
Sorry for the break in blogging. Had to make a trip outside to update our 7 Action News at Noon viewers with a quick live shot.
11:45--Office space: Bell said she sometimes used the office of Jim Papas, a Greektown investor who was a witness in the Sam Riddle bribery trial.
11:30--No promises for money: Bell said she never saw Kilpatrick promise something to a donor for a check.
11:20--Are you reading, Turkia? We've had our first moment of levity today. Bell told Jim Thomas that when she left Wayne County to start working for Kilpatrick, she received a severance payment. Thomas asked her if it was in the $100,000 or $200,000 range.
"No, it wasn't like that," she said, before adding, "It's like that now," Bell said, referring to Turkia Mullin's severance exposed by 7 Action News.
The courtroom chuckled, and Thomas pointed across the street to county's headquarters at the Guardian Building.
"That's another story," he said.
Since 7 Action News exposed Mullin's $200,000 severance, Wayne County has been the subject of a federal probe that has led to indictments, guilty pleas and a recall effort against CEO Robert Ficano.
11:08--Prosecution done: Kilpatrick's lawyer Jim Thomas is now up to cross-examine Bell, and he has his work cut out for him. On one hand, there are lots of issues he'll want to grill her over (tax problem, gambling habit, credibility in
general) to assail her testimony, but at the same time, he doesn't want to look like he's badgering a woman who clearly does not want to be testifying against Kilpatrick.
11:01--Gambling habit: Bullotta is also asking Bell about her love of playing the slots. She said she spent lots of money at Greektown Casino in Detroit. Earlier, the defense pointed out that in one year alone, she bet more than $700,000 in slots. She lost approximately $50,000.
11:00--Plea deal: Knowing that the defense will surely bring this up, Bullotta is talking to Bell about the plea deal the government offered her in exchange for her testimony. The government could recommend that Bell receive as little as 9 months in prison for her cooperation, but the ultimate decision is Judge Edmunds'.
10:57--Bobby enters: Bell said that Bobby Ferguson sometimes gave her cash to "help" her. Again, Bell had serious problems with the IRS.
"He had a mother, but he called me 'mom,' "Bell said of Ferguson.
10:33--Awkward encounter: As she was walking out the door for the break, Bell brushed by Kwame Kilpatrick as he stood at the defense table. He looked at her, as if he might say something, but never got a chance. Bell breezed by him too quickly.
10:29--Short break: The judge has asked that we take a short break, so we will. Stay with us.
10:28--Kickbacks from the Civic Fund: "Did you know that the money you were giving the mayor in cash was supposed to help kids in Detroit?" Asst. U.S. Attorney Michael Bullotta asked Bell.
"If it was the Civic Fund, yes sir," Bell responded.
10:16--More than $200k: Asked how much she paid to Kilpatrick over the years, Bell said she didn't know precisely how much.
"I don't know the exact amount sir, but I know it was more than ($100,000), and I know it was more than ($200,000)," Bell said.
10:13--The hand off: Bell says that when she went to Kilpatrick's office to deliver him cash, he would take her to a secluded room connected to his office. The room had a barber chair inside, she said, and Kilpatrick closed the door behind her before she handed him an envelope or package. The packages usually contained between $8,000 and $10,000, and were hidden either in her bra or purse.
10:09--"40 or 50:" Bell says she gave Kilpatrick either $40,000 or $50,000 from her initial $100,000 check. She said she called Kilpatrick's secretary Iris Ojeda at the mayor's office to see if he was there so she could visit him.
"I need to come over for a minute," she recalls saying to Ojeda.
She said she hid the money for Kilpatrick in her purse or sometimes bra. She said she paid the mayor in usually hundred dollar bills.
10:07--Hiding places: We've heard of interesting places where people allegedly stashed money during this trial, from vacuums to shoes. Bell says she hid cashiers checks and cash either in a can under her bed or underneath her mattress.
10:05--Bell's tax problems: Bell was quick to point out what defense lawyers made clear yesterday: she has big tax problems. She disclosed more than $300,000 in money she owes to the feds. When she went to the bank, she said she had her checks from the campaign turned into $10,000 cashiers checks. She said she did this to avoid detection from the IRS, because anything over $10,000 would trigger a red flag to the feds.
"I didn't want them to take it," she said.
9:58--Bell gets emotional: Bullotta asked Bell what she said to Kilpatrick after she received the first check. She paused for many seconds, speaking softly as if she were holding back tears. She said the mayor thanked her and asked if she "had something for him." She said she interpreted that to mean she was to return some of that money to Kilpatrick.
Bell appears to be struggling to get words out as she testifies.
"It's not easy for me to be here, sir," Bell said, adding that she has a strong relationship with Kilpatrick and his family.
9:56--Big first check: Bell said she was paid 10-15% of what she raised for Kilpatrick, and her first check was for $100,000 in 2003. She said she was given the first check by either Kwame Kilpatrick or Christine Beatty.
9:52--Noble mission: Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bullotta is having Bell read the mission of the Civic Fund. It had a very lofty purpose: to promote activities that would improve the city and the lives of children, inform local constituents and encourage voting. This is surely a strategic move by Bullotta to spell out what the Civic Fund told donors it would do with its money, so he can later introduce evidence that conflicts with this.
The feds have already said the Civic Fund was used to pay for personal expenses like vacations, yoga lessons and golf for the Kilpatricks, as well as conceal bribes to the former mayor and even fund his campaign.
9:42--Controlled by friends: The treasurer for the Civic Fund? Bell says, and we've reported, it was Kilpatrick friend and appointee Jeff Beasley. His former lover and chief-of-staff Christine Beatty
also has a role on the fund, as did other Kilpatrick friends.
9:33--Civic Fund: Bell says the Civic Fund did things like help out a local football team, register voters and help improve the community in general. Of course, as 7 Action News has documented over the years, it's done some more controversial things, too.
She says she regularly sought donations for the Civic Fund by contacting local companies. She sent out invites via e-mail, asking potential donors to come to various fundraisers and donate between $1,000 and $10,000.
9:31--Lots of funds: Bell says she worked for Kilpatrick's campaign fund, his inaugural committee, the Kilpatrick Civic fund and his legal defense fund. She raised money for all of them.
9:29--Kilpatrick family friend: Bell says she has known the Kilpatrick family since 1970, the same year Kwame Kilpatrick was born. Bell says she socialized with the Kilpatricks at church and had a "good relationship" with the family.
9:23--Bell's up: The government has called Emma Bell to the stand. She is outlining her history as a professional fundraiser, dating back decades, for both churches and politicians.
9:21--Alternate juror out: A male alternate juror has been excused from the case, Judge Edmunds just disclosed. It's not clear why he is no longer on the jury, but that means we're already down to 4 alternate jurors on only the 9th day of a four-month trial. We lost another one earlier this week when a juror who kept falling asleep was replaced by an alternate who, well, didn't.
9:19--Tie tally: Don't sleep on the bow tie! Just when you counted it out, it returns as the neckwear of choice for Kwame Kilpatrick. He's sporting a nice yellow one this morning, bringing the count to necktie: 6, bowtie: 3.
9:12--Surprise! Court's late again: Don't worry, you're not missing anything. We're a little late getting going this morning, as the lawyers are said to be discussing some procedural issues with Judge Edmunds. This has happened more than once, as devout blog-readers know. Stay with us...
9:07--Go Tigers: Judge Nancy Edmunds has made her love of the Tigers very clear throughout this trial, and last night urged the jurors to watch the team's final game as slugger Miguel Cabrera finished his bid for a triple-crown. Miggy did his job, so we expect the Judge to be smiling this morning.
9:01--Hear the Bell: Yesterday we heard lots about the government's first cooperating witness, Emma Bell, but we never heard from Bell herself. Today, that's expected to change. Lawyers say she'll testify that she had to kick back lots of her earnings as Kilpatrick's chief fundraiser to her boss.
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