DETROIT (WXYZ) - The defense is firing back in the Kilpatrick Corruption case, trying to combat testimony that the former mayor and his pals lined their pockets with lucrative water department contracts.
Just like on Monday, there was only one witness on the stand for all four hours of court--a water department insider who agreed with the defense that Bobby Ferguson wasn’t the only contractor to make millions on something called “change orders.”
On Monday, as federal prosecutors laid the groundwork for their racketeering case against Detroit’s former mayor and his co-defendants, they focused on the millions of dollars that Bobby Ferguson made on something called change orders with water department contracts.
Kwame Kilpatrick, his father Bernard Kilpatrick, Ferguson, and ex-Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Director Victor Mercado are all on trial, accused of running a criminal enterprise out of city hall.
DWSD construction contract manager Daniel Edwards has now spent two full days on the witness stand. Edwards explained to the jury that change orders are used when contractors run into unexpected cost over-runs on jobs – and at times the change orders can increase a contract’s value by millions of dollars.
On Monday, Edwards called the change orders for some of Ferguson’s deals “unusual.”
But Tuesday he agreed they are actually very common.
“They happen often in these types of construction contracts, particularly in a situation like this, where you’re walking down below in a sewer system that’s old – you’re going to find some surprises,” said Channel 7 Legal Analyst Tom Cranmer. “These change orders are not as significant as the government would make them out to be.”
Ferguson attorney Mike Rataj focused on several of his clients’ downtown water main projects that were done in a hurry with a special administrative order from Kilpatrick. The feds allege Kilpatrick used his power to make sure Ferguson cashed in on deals like these.
Edwards testified that the reason the projects were expedited was to get downtown improvements done in advance of the Super Bowl and the All Star game.
Rataj showed the jury multi-million dollar change orders that other contractors also got for some of the same projects.
“You saw that the government tried to mislead the jury and we just tried to set the record straight, that change orders are a common occurrence, and as you can see sometimes the change orders can be in double digits,” said Rataj.
Rataj also chipped away at the government’s allegation that Ferguson got one of the projects even though they said his bid was 45 percent higher than the three lowest bids from other contractors. Edwards agreed that in that case, DWSD wasn’t supposed to take the lowest bidder.
“You go out there and do the best that you can, and hopefully the jury understands what you’re trying to do. But until we get to the end of the case and the jury comes back with a not guilty, nobody rests,” said Rataj.
Edwards has spent two full days on the witness stand, explaining very technical contracts that are filled with jargon. The jury is frequently asking the attorneys to go over documents again – and even the judge is stopping the testimony at times for clarification.
“Are you concerned at all that the jurors seem a little bit confused at times,” asked 7 Action News Investigator Heather Catallo.
“We want the jury to have a full and complete understanding – obviously, these DWSD… contracts are complicated animals,” said Rataj.
Cranmer says jury confusion can a real concern in a case that’s been investigated for 8 years and with hundreds of thousands of records.
“I think the judge is doing a good job of trying to ensure that everybody, in particular the jurors, understand what’s going on, and giving them the opportunity if things are going a little bit too fast or seem a little bit too complicated, to indicate that, so that they can be on same page as everyone else,” said Cranmer.
After one of the short breaks in testimony Tuesday, Judge Nancy Edmunds told the jurors to just raise their hands if they were confused. Two jurors immediately raised their hands, then the rest of them followed suit. Then Kwame Kilpatrick raised his hand, as did one of the federal prosecutors and everyone started laughing.
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